Weekly Columns

We live in an incredibly interconnected world. We can communicate with friends and family abroad instantaneously. We can travel overseas with ease. And American goods can be found on shelves around the globe. 

When we trade our goods and services with other nations, our economy grows, creating more jobs at home. That’s why I support free trade agreements that are fair and improve market access for American exports.

Congress is currently debating legislation to grant the president Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). TPA itself is not a trade agreement; rather it is a tool for the U.S. to reach new partnerships in a quick and fair manner. It is vitally important because the vast majority of the world’s population lives outside of our borders. If we fail to compete in today’s global economy, we are shutting the door on 80 percent of the world’s purchasing power. That is unacceptable. 

The idea that America cannot compete in the international marketplace is a myth. When negotiated properly, free and fair trade agreements have proven that not only can American businesses compete, they truly can succeed in a global economy. 

Our 20 existing trade agreement partners buy 13 times more manufactured goods from us than they do from other countries. However, without such free and fair trade agreements in place, American manufacturers are punished by excessive tariffs when they try to enter a new marketplace. 

It’s not just our manufacturing sector that benefits from free and fair trade. As the world’s leading agricultural exporter, our farmers, ranchers and loggers will benefit greatly if Congress approves TPA. 

Since agriculture is our state’s leading economic industry, this is welcome news for Arkansas’s producers. Arkansas is the country’s top exporter of rice and ranks among the top ten for poultry, cotton, farmed fish and soybeans. 

Our state’s economy stands to benefit from additional trading partners in more ways than one. International trade supports over 340,000 jobs in Arkansas. That’s one in every five jobs. 

The misconceptions about TPA are abundant so let’s set the record straight. TPA does not give President Obama the authority to unilaterally change U.S. law. TPA ensures that any provision of a trade agreement that is inconsistent with U.S. law has no effect. It will carry over into the next administration and, in fact, the next president will have the authority longer than President Obama. 

Passing TPA ensures that Congress has an important role in the process. Members of Congress have access to the proposed deal, can attend negotiations with the U.S. delegation, and get 60 days to review the text of any trade agreement before the President can sign it. Any commitments not disclosed to Congress before trade agreements are introduced will have no force of law. Most importantly, Congress still retains the authority to decide on the final deal.  

Here’s the bottom line. At this moment, container ships are rolling into our ports, packed to capacity, but leaving empty. We need to reverse that trend. American businesses deserve a level playing field in the global marketplace. We need to approach this issue with the mindset that for every 100 customers American businesses have, 20 live here and 80 live overseas. Our policies must reflect that fact.