On Monday, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) released its 28th annual National Trade Estimate (NTE) report on trade barriers to U.S. exports in virtually every country around the world. In addition, USTR issued its fourth annual report on two specific types of barriers – sanitary and phytosanitary barriers to our food and agricultural exports and technical barriers to trade that impose non-tariff barrier standards, testing requirements and technical specifications. A fourth report – on threats to intellectual property protection globally – will be released at month’s end.
The three reports released on April 1 provide a sobering reality to efforts to achieve our national goal of doubling exports between 2009 and 2014. Substantial and, in many countries, growing barriers limit greater U.S. sales and access to foreign markets. And while some of these issues can be addressed through existing international obligations under trade agreements, many of these countries are not part of agreements with the United States that would discipline such unfair barriers.
For manufacturers, these reports reinforce the importance of a robust trade agenda that is focused on opening new markets and setting in place strong disciplines on a host of unfair trade and investment barriers. For our nation’s manufacturers, trade and investment agreements are an export driver. The United States’ 20 Free Trade Agreement partner countries accounted for 48 percent of total U.S. manufactured goods exports in 2012. And looking at these reports on international barriers helps explain why. Let’s make these opportunities a reality for growing manufacturing.
The newly announced Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations that will begin this summer with the EU and the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations with 10 of our Asia-Pacific trading partners represent huge opportunities for the United States and our manufacturers to secure stronger rules that will break down many of the barriers identified in these reports. Investment treaty negotiations with China, India, and potentially several countries in Africa are also important to set in place basic rules of fairness for U.S. property – including intellectual property – located overseas. Multilateral negotiations to expand customs rules and facilitate trade, to expand the Information Technology Agreement and to develop a stronger international services framework all would address many of the barriers identified in these reports.
To accelerate and secure high-standard outcomes in the TTIP, TPP and several other negotiations, the Administration and Congress need to act with haste on a new Trade Promotion Authority framework. This executive-legislative compact was last updated in 2002 and is a needed predicate to ensuring trade agreements can be negotiated and implemented.
So while these trade barriers reports are indeed sobering, manufacturers know that there are solutions within reach if the Administration and Congress work together to put forward a robust trade agenda. Let’s not let our own inaction be the biggest trade barrier that the United States faces.
Linda Dempsey is vice president of international economic affairs, National Association of Manufacturers.