At a time when our country is fixated on a protracted political process passionately promising to cure all our ills, this would be an excellent time for our new administration to put forward their vision to solve the most critical economic issue of our time: our degenerative trade deficit.

Unlike other seemingly impossible challenges we face, our trade deficit is something we can correct in a relatively short period thus creating millions of well-paying jobs. It is as straight forward as establishing an environment where American exporters are allowed to compete.

First, we must demand that this government articulate a comprehensive strategy in dealing with our global competitors.

Number one should be reversing any calls to “fix” the evils of NAFTA or “opt out”.
NAFTA is by far the most beneficial trade legislation Congress has ever passed.  They must also finally ratify pending Free Trade Agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.

Next, we must create the Department of Global Trade

Most of the authority for our global trade policies is split between the USTR (United States Trade Representative) and Department of Commerce. This split provides the USTR responsibility for “policy”, “coordination” and “negotiations” while providing the Secretary of Commerce “nonagricultural operational trade responsibility”. Furthermore there are over twenty federal agencies that have responsibilities over international trade policy that must be consolidated.

What we need is a single Department of Global Trade. The Secretary of Commerce would become the Secretary of Global Trade, possessing real power over a portfolio that offers opportunities for important policy leadership. Unlike today, the Secretary of Commerce would have complete authority over all facets of trade including strategy, negotiations and enforcement.

Forget about trade sanctions.

In the past fifty years the United States has gone overboard on sanctions.  We have sanctioned more than 80 countries over 175 times. If we include “soft” sanctions such as denying export financing through the EXIM Bank the number would be much higher. Our sanctions threaten two thirds of the world’s population. Over half of the sanctions established in our country’s 231 year history have occurred in the last ten years.  Although it is difficult to estimate, sanctions cost American exporters at least $70 billion annually in lost sales which translates into 600,000 jobs.

Trade sanctions rarely have the anticipated effect on our adversaries. A better solution is to let Americans engage the citizens of foreign countries by traveling abroad, taking with them our values, culture and ideas. By allowing Americans to engage with the world, trade barriers would fall, and the only losers would be tyranny, poverty and ignorance.

Get tough on Intellectual Property Protection and Counterfeit Goods.

Counterfeit products produced and sold freely at markets in China and exported around the world cost Americans an estimated one million jobs a year and American businesses $250 billion. The bulk of the world’s pirated material comes from China. If China for whatever reason can not close this down, then the Chinese Government must make restitution to US companies and workers being cheated because of their ineptness to govern. We must declare war on Intellectual Property theft and provide the resources to fight it.

Our U.S. Export Assistance Centers (USEAC) throughout the United States and our Foreign Commercial Services Offices at our Embassies overseas must be provided resources needed to promote and defend our exporters.

We must continue to invest in and build further our infrastructure that promotes American exports.America’s back bone has always been its small businesses and entrepreneurs. This is where we can benefit from the U.S. Export Assistance Centers and the Commercial Sections of our Embassies overseas, which are important resources in helping American exporters reach potential customers in every where.

Quality trade education must be made available that is predictable, affordable and convenient, such as the Florida District Export Council’s Export University program. Hundreds of students have passed through its courses. It is a program that must be rolled out nationally.

Rewrite the tax code so it does not discriminate against U.S. manufacturers and exporters.

Our manufacturers pay a disproportionate share of taxes that fund our schools, support our defense and build our roads. We must rid ourselves of an arcane and convoluted income tax system and move to a simple consumption tax that spreads the burden equally over American made and imported goods. Like our competitors, we must provide tax incentives and rebates to our exporters.

Fifty years of successive Republican and Democratic administrations without a comprehensive trade vision has resulted in an infrastructure that is unable to compete globally. Providence has bestowed on ordinary Americans an extraordinary privilege to change things for the better. It is our duty to seize that right. This is not the time to point fingers or play partisan politics. It is time for Americans of all stripes to come together.

It starts with a vision.

By Neal Asbury

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