The Center for American Progress hosted U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Ron Kirk on March 2, a day after the president presented his “2011 Trade Policy Agenda and 2010 Annual Report” to Congress. Ambassador Kirk discussed the importance of a trade policy that helps promote broad-based economic growth, American competitiveness, and just jobs, or jobs complete with appropriate compensation, labor rights, and opportunities for economic mobility.
Sabina Dewan, CAP’s Associate Director for International Economic Policy, laid out the context for the event’s discussion in her introductory remarks: The United States is the biggest economy in the world but faces formidable challenges—not least of which is that the economy needs to create enough good jobs for the 14 million hard-working, middle-class Americans that are out of work.
Restoring broad-based sustainable economic growth that helps bring America’s economy back on track and creates just jobs must be the top priority for all policymakers. The U.S. Trade Representative’s office works with other U.S. government agencies to ensure that trade policy serves these goals.
Sarah Rosen Wartell, CAP’s Executive Vice President, engaged Ambassador Kirk in a candid conversation about how trade fits in with the Obama administration’s strategy to bring the economy back on track and address the country’s pressing unemployment challenge. Ambassador Kirk noted several initiatives aimed at supporting American competitiveness and American jobs, including the President’s National Export Initiative that seeks to double exports by the end of 2014.
The United States free trade agreement with Korea was also renegotiated in an effort to increase opportunities for American workers through better access to the Korean market for American products and services, including U.S. automobiles. The United Auto Workers as well as the “Big Three" U.S. automakers support the renegotiated agreement.
But Wartell and Ambassador Kirk also acknowledged that enhancing the capacity of our small and medium enterprises to export more must be combined with bolstering the capacity of people abroad to consume more U.S. products and services in the long run. Ambassador Kirk acknowledged that creating just jobs in foreign markets will help raise living standards worldwide while generating a stronger and sustainable demand for our goods and services. This will in turn create jobs here in the United States.
Ensuring that trade meets these goals also depends on effective enforcement of rules and agreements to ensure that there is a level playing field for both American and foreign workers. The U.S. Trade Representative’s office, or USTR, is working to enforce existing agreements and to resolve the difficult outstanding issues in the three pending trade agreements–Colombia, Panama, and South Korea—that the previous administration crafted. U.S.T.R. is working to address labor and tax policy issues in the Panama and Colombia free trade agreements as the free trade agreement with South Korea makes its way to Congress.
But the three pending agreements don’t give us insight into the Obama administration’s long-term approach to trade. The TransPacific Partnership, a trade agreement that would increase American exports to countries in Asia and the Pacific that collectively represent more than 40 percent of global trade, is an opportunity for the Obama administration to craft an agreement that will make its priorities and the key tenets of its own trade policy explicit. One of these priorities must be harnessing trade to create just jobs in the United States and abroad.