Congress Needs To Help American Trade Grow

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter
USA Today
June 8, 2015

Rarely does the United States have the opportunity to simultaneously improve our prosperity at home and bolster our leadership abroad. Yet Congress is debating legislation to grant trade promotion authority (TPA) to President Obama that would do just that.

Passing TPA, as the Senate did last month and the House of Representatives is considering, would give the president the opportunity to complete the Trans Pacific Partnership, one of the largest trade agreements in U.S. history, and encourage progress on a similarly significant pact under negotiation with Europe.

As the secretaries of State and Defense, we never forget that our strength abroad ultimately rests on the foundation of our vibrant, unmatched and growing domestic economy. By lowering trade barriers among countries that make up nearly 40% of the global economy, TPP would better connect the United States with economies along the Pacific Rim — from Canada to Japan, and Peru to Australia.

Building trade ties is good for American workers and businesses because it will help them reach more of the 95% of the world's consumers who live outside our borders. The Peterson Institute for International Economics estimates that TPP would increase American exports — which already support 11.7 million American jobs — by almost $125 billion a year when fully implemented.

Beyond these economic merits, TPP is an indispensable tool for one of the most important projects of our time. Since World War II, U.S. leadership of the global trading system has helped usher in an era of peace and prosperity unparalleled in history. It has brought jobs to our shores, partners to our defense and peace and prosperity to those around the world who have embraced openness, fairness and freedom.

But our rules-based system is now competing against alternative, less-open models. Nowhere is that clearer than in the Asia-Pacific region. To revitalize and expand the system that has served us so well, we must be strategic in growing and exercising our economic strength, as TPP would in a number of ways.

First, TPP would deepen our alliances and partnerships abroad and underscore our lasting commitment to the Asia-Pacific. In meeting after meeting across the region, we hear calls about the importance of TPP and the desire for more U.S. engagement. Like the rest of President Obama's rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, finalizing TPP would reaffirm that America will be a leader in the region for decades to come.

Second, TPP would help us promote a global order that reflects our interests and our values. The success of our efforts cannot be captured in economic terms alone. While helping to increase global growth, we've also provided a framework that bolsters cooperation, accountability and greater respect for human dignity.

TPP would improve on this tradition by setting the highest standards of any trade agreement in U.S. history. TPP would create the mechanism to establish and enforce strict labor and environmental standards. For the first time in any trade agreement, TPP would address state-owned enterprises and ensure that the Internet remains open and free. These efforts are as critical for leveling the playing field for American workers and businesses as they are for promoting a democratic and stable international economic order.

Third, TPP would contribute to global growth and stability by promoting inclusive development. One of the greatest bulwarks against the spread of violent extremism is to replace poverty with opportunity, and TPP would create economic growth and unlock opportunities for workers and businesses across the region. We have the chance not only to spur growth, but also to ensure that growth is more inclusive and sustainable.

The strategic stakes extend beyond the Asia-Pacific region. Fundamentally, TPP presents a choice between two futures.

By leading on trade, the U.S can help start a global race to the top on standards and develop a global economy based on openness and fairness that rewards those who play by the rules and encourages other nations to adopt our high standards.

The alternative is a race to the bottom that will harm the U.S. economy and undercuts America's influence abroad. In that future, the rise of lower-standard agreements such as those offered by China would reward those quickest to abandon values and compete at any cost.

As Congress debates TPA, it should look beyond this administration and toward the next generation. Economically and strategically, the stakes of U.S. leadership on trade will reverberate not only across borders but also across decades. The path toward a more peaceful, prosperous and fair world begins with passing TPA.