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 more than 400 businesses and organizations throughout the region, is encouraged by recent progress toward approval of three free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. These countries offer unique market opportunities to increase the export of goods and services from New England and create job opportunities for our residents.
The U.S. is the world’s largest trading nation, with nearly $1.6 trillion in exports of goods and services in 2009. With 95 percent 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 robust markets 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, the New England region’s worldwide exports of goods and services in 2010 totaled $56.2 billion. In Massachusetts alone, exports exceeded $26.3 billion.
Last year, exports from the New England states to Colombia, Panama and South Korea reached nearly $1.9 billion. That included more than $950 million from Massachusetts. About half of the goods exported from Massachusetts were manufactured metal goods; others included computers, electrical equipment, wood, papers and chemicals.
Not only does trade with these three nations pour millions of dollars into the New England economy, it also supports thousands of jobs in the region. In Massachusetts, trade with Colombia, Panama and South Korea supports more than 3,100 jobs, with nearly 2,900 tied to South Korea alone. If the pending agreements pass and barriers to trade are eliminated, exports to these nations will surely increase, creating more jobs here in the U.S. at a time when unemployment rates remain stubbornly high.
Approval of the proposed deals, which President Obama sent to Congress this month, is important to increasing exports and creating jobs, but it’s 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 year, and Canada implemented a similar pact with Colombia weeks ago. Without the implementation of the agreements, New England stands to lose both export revenue and jobs in the ever-evolving global marketplace. If Congress doesn’t act soon, New England and the entire nation could be at an economic disadvantage at a time when the recovery remains fragile.
The Obama and Bush administrations 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 agreements, and the Obama Administration will no doubt ensure these commitments are met.
Our nation is at a very critical point in our fragile economic recovery. At a time when so many businesses 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 act so New England can reap the benefits.
James T. Brett is president & CEO of The New England Council, a nonpartisan alliance of businesses, academic and health institutions, and public and private organizations that promotes economic growth.