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Thornberry Op-ed: We need trade agreements with American rules
Since mankind’s earliest days, we have traded. Exchanging a goat for some wood or stone was an essential means of survival. Some groups or individuals have always been better at some tasks than others.
The same is true among nations today. Whether it is differences in climate, natural resources, or stage of economic development, some countries are better able to produce certain goods than others. Buying and selling goods among them helps raise the living standards of everyone.
In the U.S., we do a lot of things well. Americans are getting more efficient at producing everything from agricultural commodities to manufactured goods. Yet, over 90 percent of the world’s consumers live outside our shores. To create jobs and improve our quality of life, we have to sell American products and services overseas.
Those sales are usually governed by trade agreements, and there has been a flurry of them in recent years. The problem is that the U.S. has largely been left out. In the first decade of this century, the countries of East Asia negotiated 48 trade agreements. The U.S. was only involved in two. Over that time, America’s share of exports to that region fell by 42 percent, the worst record of any major exporting country.
A big part of the reason we have been left behind is that the authority to negotiate trade agreements within congressional rules has been allowed to lapse. A president can negotiate a trade deal at any time, but other countries, knowing how our system works, will not negotiate with us if Congress can go back in after the agreement is signed to change the individual provisions. Instead of letting a president negotiate alone in secret, it is more beneficial for Congress to insert itself in the beginning of the process with the final approval authority.
The House will soon vote to authorize and set the rules for presidents over the next five years to negotiate on trade, known as Trade Promotion Authority. That authorization will require any agreement to meet certain conditions, and it will require that any agreement be made public for 60 days before being signed. Congress will then have the chance to vote to approve or disapprove of it.
Two points to keep in mind: Trade is very important to our part of Texas. About 25 percent of the pork, 50 percent of the wheat, 90 percent of the cotton, and 90 percent of the harvested sorghum produced in our congressional district is sold overseas. Many other kinds of businesses depend heavily on overseas sales as well.
Secondly, China is busily working to be a dominant power – militarily and economically. They aim to write the rules for international affairs in a way that benefits them. And they may well be successful if the U.S. continues to sit on the sidelines. We need trade agreements with American rules to hold other countries accountable to our standards and to sell American products and services to the world on a level playing field. We have to get in the game.
U.S. Congressman Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, represents the 13th Congressional District of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives. He serves as the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee.U.S. Congressman Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, represents the 13th Congressional District of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives. He serves as the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee.