A Call To Action From The Trenches Of Trade

In October, 2006 I wrote an article for To The Point News entitled The Great Debate about an imaginary debate on the future of U.S. trade. Subsequently, I was appointed by the US Secretary of Commerce to serve on the Florida District Export Council.

In 2007, a national conference of all 55 Export Councils throughout the country was held in Tampa, Florida.  The conference theme was:  The Great Debate :  The Future of U.S. Trade.

400 delegates witnessed Members of Congress, senior administration officials, labor and business leaders, Washington think-tank experts, agricultural advocates, environmentalists and American exporters forcefully argue their positions in a no holds barred exchange moderated by CNN award winning journalist and anchor Gene Randall.

I delivered the closing address which received a standing ovation.
It is thanks to To The Point News that I was invited to deliver it.   Here it is:

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times contends in his best selling book on globalization, The World is Flat, the world has become smaller and “flatter” due to the rapid advancement of Information Technology.

If something can be digitized, claims Friedman, it can be zipped around the world in nanoseconds allowing workers in low cost countries such as China and India to replace workers from industrialized countries at a fraction of the expense. Friedman further alleges this “flattening” has resulted in a more “level” playing field.

The concept of a flat world today is as wrong metaphorically as it was when Copernicus proved it to be literally wrong. Mr. Friedman has obviously never sold and exported anything in his life.

For if he had, he would surely know the topography of world trade is far from level. It is full of insuperable mountains, raging rivers and shifting sands. There are cliffs and crevices everywhere. The world trading system is plagued by barriers, distortions and manipulations.

Our competitors have been brazenly successful in tilting trade away from us and towards them. The world is tilted and we have a $750 billion trade deficit to prove it!

It is not that American’s are uncompetitive; it is the system we are competing in is corrupt and skewed against us.

So What Are We Going To Do About It?

Providence has bestowed on ordinary Americans just like you and me an extraordinary privilege to change things for the better. It is our duty to seize that right. Let me illustrate one humbling example.

A few years ago a good friend Dr. Jack Wheeler, who is credited as being the originator of the Reagan Doctrine that brought down the Soviet Union, and who owns a Washington based news service, known as To The Point News ,suggested I write a column from the trenches of trade addressing real life issues impacting American exporters. No theory, just straight from the heart first hand experiences of what really goes on out there.

He felt it extremely important to understand why America was performing so poorly on the battlefields of world trade. I dauntingly took up the challenge knowing the accomplished writers contributing weekly articles that I would have to measure up to.

To my amazement the words just came pouring out rooted in twenty-five years of frustration in dealing with the injustice facing American exporters’ everyday, everywhere.  Before I knew it I had published over forty articles. Just as Forest Gump ran for days to seek shelter from his frustrations, I wrote articles. This has turned me into the Forest Gump of American export. One of my articles was about an imaginary debate concerning the future of U.S. trade entitled “The Great Debate”. This was the genesis of the theme and format of our conference.

Exports are extremely important. Dollar for dollar they pay 17% more wages and employ five times more people than our imports. They provide jobs and opportunities for millions of American families to pursue their dreams. There is a path towards a more “level” playing field but not the one suggested by Friedman. A great place to begin understanding what needs to be done is right here at home. Free trade amongst countries rarely exists. Free trade does exist among the 50 states of the United States and has been incredibly successful.

So let’s examine free trade at its purest. The U.S. Constitution forbids tariffs amongst states on any kind of product or service. All 50 states are under the same federal laws controlling banking, the environment, labor rights, safety standards and copyright and patent protection.  All 50 states use the same currency that is not subject to manipulation or devaluation. All 50 states are ultimately answerable to the Supreme Court.

Free Trade Agreements are essential because they bring us much closer to the kind of trade that exists between states. They are comprehensive and not only deal with eliminating tariffs on manufactured and agricultural products but open up service markets and government procurement. They regulate labor rights, set safety standards, protect the environment, defend against intellectual piracy and instill due process. In short, they level the playing field.  They must be vigorously pursued.

Before George W. Bush came to office we had Free Trade Agreements with four countries. Today we have FTA’s with fourteen. However this pales against the European Union that has concluded twenty-eight FTA’s and China that has already in place twenty-one. We have much ground to make up. We must insist upon FTA’s with China and Japan that are responsible for over 60% of our merchandise trade deficit.

Visit members of Congress in their district offices and on Capitol Hill. Walk right into the Rayburn House Office Building where many members of the House of Representatives hold office and start knocking on doors. Tell them how important it is to pass the Colombia, Panama and South Korea Free Trade Agreements now before them. I have heard every time I met with a member of Congress that hearing directly from the people had the biggest impact on their votes.

Write op-ed pieces. Get published. The stories from the front lines of trade are invaluable and must be told.

Get involved with the District Export Council in fulfilling its mission of mentoring those eager to dedicate their careers to exporting America’s products and services. The U.S. Chamber of Commerceand the SBEA (Small Business Export Administration) are also great organizations to have your voice heard and make a difference. There are organizations in all over our country doing important work to promote the trade agenda. Get plugged in

Meet your neighbors. Explain to them why Lou Dobbs is wrong about trade. Free Trade Agreements allow Americans to compete fairly. We have never known a world where American exports were given equal access. I fervently believe if such a world were ever to exist, our exploding deficit would soon be history.

Give American exports a chance, and our exporters and workers will make us all proud of “Made in America” again.

Providence has bestowed on ordinary Americans just like you and me an extraordinary privilege to change things for the better. It is our duty to seize that right. Let me illustrate one humbling example.

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