Pending free trade agreements can boost N.E. economy
As originally appearing in The Union Leader

By James T. Brett

From fresh seafood to cutting-edge medical devices, the New England region is home to countless goods and services that are in demand around the globe.  And so The New England Council, representing over 400 businesses and organizations throughout the region, is encouraged by progress in recent months toward approval of three pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama.  South Korea, Colombia and Panama each offer unique market opportunities to increase the export of goods and services from New England and thereby create job opportunities for our residents.

The U.S. is the world’s largest trading nation, with exports of goods and services of nearly $1.6 trillion in 2009. With 95% of the world’s consumers outside U.S. borders, increasing exports is an important way to spur our economy at this critical point in our nation’s recovery. Free and open trade policies ensure that robust markets exist for the products and services American workers produce, and that the U.S. is able to compete in the global economy.

The impact of trade on the New England economy cannot be understated.  According to the International Trade Administration, in 2010, the New England region’s worldwide exports of goods and services totaled $56.2 billion.  Just here in New Hampshire, exports in 2010 exceeded $4.4 billion.

Last year, exports from the New England states to Colombia, Panama, and South Korea reached nearly $1.9 billion.   That number includes $166 million in exports from here in New Hampshire from a variety of sectors.  A majority of New Hampshire exports were manufactured metal goods, but the state also exported computers, electrical equipment, wood, paper, and chemicals to these three nations last year.

Not only does trade with these three nations pour millions of dollars into the New England economy, but it also supports thousands of jobs in the region.  Here in STATE, trade with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea supports nearly 600 jobs. If the three pending trade agreements pass and barriers to trade are eliminated, exports to these nations will surely increase, creating more jobs here in the U.S. in a time when unemployment rates remain stubbornly high.

Approval of the three pending free trade agreements is important to increasing exports and creating jobs, but it is also critical in order to maintain our competitiveness in the global marketplace. The European Union finalized a free trade agreement with South Korea earlier this summer, and Canada implemented a free trade agreement with Colombia just weeks ago. Without the implementation of these free trade agreements, New England stands to lose both export revenue and jobs in the ever-evolving global marketplace. If Congress doesn’t take action soon on the three pending agreements, New England and the entire nation could be at an economic disadvantage at a time when the recovery remains fragile.

The Obama Administration, and the Bush Administration before it, worked carefully to craft these agreements to include a variety of measures that ensure American interests are protected and appropriate labor and human rights safeguards are in place.  In recent months, careful negotiations have led to important commitments in the implementation of these free trade agreements and the Obama Administration will no doubt ensure these commitments are met.  We are also encouraged by recent bi-partisan congressional efforts that will allow for consideration of an extension of Trade Adjustment Assistance – federal benefits designed to help American workers affected by trade policies – along with the three pending trade agreements.

Our nation is at a very critical point in our fragile economic recovery.  At a time when so many businesses large and small throughout our region continue to struggle, and with thousands of New Englanders still unemployed, we simply cannot afford to ignore the possibilities expanded international trade presents.  We urge Congress to take action on the trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea so that New England can reap the benefits.

James T. Brett is the President & CEO of The New England Council, a non-partisan alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations throughout New England formed to promote economic growth.

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