Trade pacts that will boost New England
As originally appearing in The Providence Journal

By James T. Brett

New England is home to countless goods and services, from fresh seafood to cutting-edge medical devices, that are in demand around the globe. And so the New England Council, representing over 400 businesses and organizations, is encouraged by progress toward approval of three free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama.

Each agreement offers unique market opportunities to increase the export of goods and services from New England and create job opportunities.

The United States is the world’s largest trading nation, with exports of goods and services of nearly $1.6 trillion in 2009. With 95 percent of the world’s consumers outside U.S. borders, increasing exports is an important way to spur our economy. 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 overstated. According to the International Trade Administration, in 2010, the New England region’s worldwide exports of goods and services totaled $56.2 billion. Just in Rhode Island, exports in 2010 exceeded $1.9 billion.

Last year, exports from the New England states to Colombia, Panama, and South Korea reached nearly $1.9 billion. That number includes over $24 million in exports from Rhode Island, including manufactured metal goods, computers, and other electronic equipment.

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 fact, trade with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea supports over 6,300 jobs throughout the six New England states. If the three pending trade agreements pass, and barriers to trade are eliminated, exports to these nations will surely increase, creating more jobs here.

Approval of the three pending free-trade agreements is important to increasing exports and creating jobs, but it is also critical 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. If Congress doesn’t take action soon, New England and the entire nation could be at an economic disadvantage in a fragile recovery.

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 bipartisan congressional efforts that will allow for consideration, along with the pending trade agreements, of an extension of trade-adjustment assistance — federal benefits to help American workers affected by trade policies.

Our nation is at a critical point in our fragile recovery. When 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 that 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 president and chief executive of the New England Council, a business lobbying group.

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