America Must Win The Free Trade Race

America in the free trade raceIf America was in a foot race against Europe, Asia and even Canada for negotiating the greatest number of free trade agreements, America would barely get out of the starting blocks.

Consider that America has free trade agreements with only 14 countries. While according to the Asian Development Bank, 150 bilateral free trade agreements have either been signed or are under negotiation in Asia; and the European Union (EU) is negotiating trade agreements with more than 100 developing countries.

The EU finalized a free trade agreement with Mexico in 2000 — the second largest market for U.S. exports. Against a backdrop of conflicting and confusing statements coming from the new U.S. administration concerning NAFTA Canada has begun allying itself more closely with Europe evidenced by the ongoing negotiation of a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU. Once concluded it will make European products more competitive and available throughout the Canadian market. Canada is the largest export market for American products; a market we cannot afford to lose.

While we are running in place, the rest of world is negotiating trade agreements that will give their manufacturers a global advantage over the U.S. What’s worse, for every step we take forward, we take three steps backward. Just look at the Colombia, Panama and South Korea Free Trade Agreements that are languishing in Congress awaiting final approval.

Looking at South Korea alone, it is already the EU’s eighth-largest trade partner and the EU has been the single largest investor in South Korea since 1962, giving the EU a big competitive advantage over the U.S. By concluding the U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement we would give American manufacturers a big boost in this very important market.

If you don’t think that American companies are frustrated by the unequal trade policies worldwide, it may be reflected in the fact that among the roughly 8.5 million American companies with employees, only 250,000 are exporting, and 60 percent of these export to just one country. American manufacturers are, by and large, passing up exports in favor of doing business within the U.S. to avoid the export roadblocks put in their way.

To put it in perspective, in the 14 countries where U.S. exporters enjoy free trade agreements, their revenues are up 40% over countries where the U.S. does not have free trade agreements.
To give this situation a local perspective, the free trade agreements passed in recent years have done wonders for Florida’s exporters. They create a trickledown effect across the economy, as evidenced by the ensuing demands at Florida ports, which generate hundreds of millions of dollars in investments to expand terminal access so that new shipping lines can be brought in to increase the coming and going of cargo.
As a state that is defined by its strategic international position, Florida must continue to lead the pack since the Florida economy will continue to thrive by pursuing open access to foreign markets for the goods and services produced by Florida companies.
As Thomas Paine is so famously quoted: “Lead, follow or get out of my way.” It is time for all of us to lead the race for free trade and let everyone else follow.

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