The overall 2012 U.S. trade data were released this morning by the Commerce Department, and the news was disappointing. While there was a decline in the overall trade deficit, another key indicator – exports – showed anemic growth.

U.S. goods exports in 2012 grew by only $66.7 billion, less than half the value of export growth between 2010 and 2011. This 4.9 percent increase in exports is far off the 15 percent rate of increase necessary for the United States to double exports by 2015 and create much-needed new economic opportunities for our manufacturers around the United States.

While global economic slowing has, no doubt, played a major role in these limited export gains, policymakers in Washington, D.C., should heed the call to action that these numbers represent.

With persistent global economic challenges expected throughout this year, the Administration and Congress must develop a greater sense of urgency in the effort to expand trade and achieve the doubling of U.S. exports by 2014. 

Exports are critical to manufacturers in the United States and more substantial export growth is vital to retaining and creating jobs and economic grow domestically. 

To achieve that goal and keep our manufacturers in the global game, we need to see a much more robust and muscular U.S. trade and investment agenda that prioritizes opening new markets, reducing unnecessary costs and red tape that undermine American competitiveness and ensuring all countries play by the international trade rules. While progress was made with market-opening agreements over the last two years with South Korea, Colombia, Panama and Russia, businesses must look forward, not in reverse, in an increasingly challenging and competitive international economy. 

The time is at hand for the Administration and Congress to begin work on the renewal of the Executive-Congressional trade negotiating authority pact, also known as Trade Promotion Authority, to enable the United States to obtain highly ambitious outcomes in the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks and launch new initiatives

The time is now for the United States and European Union to launch new talks to achieve concrete market opening policies and the reduction of trade barriers.

The time is now for Congress to pass the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill (MTB) and make manufacturers cost competitive in the global economy.

The time is now for the United States to work aggressively toward strong negotiating outcomes in all trade and investment negotiations, from information technology, trade facilitation and services talks to bilateral investment negotiations with China and India that were launched over four years ago.

The time is now for the administration to put in place a much more effective export promotion plan, particularly with recent trade agreement partners and emerging markets.

The time is now for all of us to roll up our sleeves in double exports and create jobs.

Linda Dempsey is vice president of international economic affairs, National Association of Manufacturers. 

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