2013 Trade Numbers Tell Only Part of the Story: Why America Needs to Care about Trade and Trade Promotion Authority

By February 7, 2014Economy, Trade

Today, is a day on which we usually focus on numbers – in particular, the full country- and product-specific data on U.S. trade flows for all of 2013 released by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis.  While relevant, these data tell just a sliver of the real story.

Today’s trade numbers show a modest overall increase in U.S. exports of manufactured goods as explained by NAM’s Chief Economist Chad Moutray. Yet, these numbers set a new high in manufactured goods exports – over $1.38 trillion which is important for manufacturers and the nearly 300,000 small and medium sized firms that count themselves as U.S. exporters.  Notably, U.S. manufactured exports have more than doubled since 2002, the last time that Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) was enacted.

Today’s trade numbers also show that the biggest market for our manufactured goods exports are those 20 countries where barriers are lowest and where the basic rules of fairness and property protection apply – the 20 countries with which the United States has in place free trade agreements (FTA)  Consider that 47.5 percent of all U.S. manufactured exports in 2013 – $656 billion in goods made in America  — were sold to just those 20 countries in 2013, while those countries represent a mere six percent of world population and less than 10 percent of the world economy.

All too often criticized in the blogosphere , U.S. trade agreements have been highly successful in expanding markets for exports of manufactured goods that in turn helps sustain and grow manufacturing and manufacturing jobs throughout our 50 states. Notably, the United States has an overall manufacturing trade surplus with our 20 FTA partners.

While posts abound about what is wrong with trade, the fundamental fact is manufacturers need a much more robust trade policy to sustain and grow their business and jobs here in the United States.  Manufacturers face steep competition from private and state-owned firms overseas, where pennies may determine whether U.S. goods win or lose a sale. Except for our FTA partners, most other countries have done the least they can to open up their markets and eliminate the tariffs, non-tariff barriers and other forms of discriminatory and unfair treatment that undermines U.S. competitiveness globally.  On the other hand, the United States has one of the most open markets in the world. We need other countries to follow our lead.Floatwork

But trade is about a lot more than numbers.  Consider the stories of small and medium manufacturers across our nation. Sandra Westlund-Deenihan, CEO and Design Engineer of Quality Float Works, Inc. in Schaumberg, Ill., told her story in January’s Member Focus cover story, explaining how her 24-person company was able to quadruple sales overseas in the past 10 years, with major markets including in key U.S.-free trade agreement countries as Australia, Canada, Mexico, Oman and Singapore.  Sandra explained: “Where’s there’s a level playing field abroad, we are winning sales and supporting jobs here at home.

GreenblattIn Baltimore, Maryland, Marlin Steel President Drew Greenblatt recently penned an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun on the power of trade and Trade Promotion Authority to grow manufacturing in the United States.  Drew explained to me that “Marlin Steel is using American steel and fabricating wire racks, material handling baskets and other products to sell to more than 36 countries around the world, generating more than 20 percent of  Marlin Steel’s total sales. We need more prospects so we can grow revenue and grow jobs.”  The packages of material handling racks below are destined to leave the Port of Baltimore for Colombia, another FTA partner, where Marlin’s sales have increased substantially since the U.S-Colombia FTA entered into force.

But America’s hands have been tied by the failure of Congress and the Administration to enact new Trade Promotion Authority legislation that will enable both branches of government to do their part, to work together and to advance a growth agenda for the United States through strong new trade agreements.  Trade Promotion Authority legislation, particularly the recently introduced Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014 lays out key negotiating objectives for the United States and sets forth a process for Congress and the Administration to work together to get and implement the best possible trade deals for the United States

Growing manufacturing requires the United States to tear down barriers overseas, to set in place basic rules of fairness and openness, all subject to strong enforcement. That is precisely what U.S. trade agreements do and why manufacturers are leading the fight here in Washington to ensure that America can again lead on trade through Trade Promotion Authority and new trade agreements in the Asia Pacific and with Europe that will create opportunities to grow manufacturing and grow jobs throughout the United States.


Linda Dempsey

Linda Dempsey

Linda Dempsey is the vice president of international economic affairs at the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). In this capacity, Ms. Dempsey leads the NAM’s efforts to improve the global competitiveness of manufacturers in the United States by advocating intellectual property protection, increased export financing and the elimination of trade barriers as well as pushing for agreements and treaties to open up new export markets to create jobs. Ms. Dempsey is noted for her experience on a wide range of international trade and investment policy issues.
Linda Dempsey

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