At a time when the United States needs to create jobs and get its economy moving again, why isn't anyone in the federal government talking about international trade? Leslie Schweitzer, senior trade adviser for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (CofC), posed that question at the 8th Annual Northeast Cargo Symposium of the Coalition of New England Companies for Trade (CONECT).
Considering that "global trade and investment is a stimulus package in itself," it's a mystery why that subject isn't included in discussions about the economic crisis, Schweitzer said. International trade is what continues to drive the U.S. economy—a fact many legislators don't seem to appreciate, she added.
The U.S. Chamber is concerned that Congressis buying into the "rising tide of isolationism and protectionism" pushed by the AFL-CIO and other labor groups, Schweitzer said, noting that a move in that direction would be disastrous. "Curtailing international trade is a surefire way to prolong the recession," she said. The chamber estimates that 57 million U.S. jobs are directly or indirectly related to international trade.
Exports are getting some attention on Capitol Hill because they represent manufacturing jobs at home. But nobody in the federal government will even mention imports, Schweitzer charged. In her view, this reticence reflects the fact that people associate imports with lost jobs as well as the government's preoccupation with domestic crises in the financial, housing, and auto markets. "I think I can safely say that there is no trade agenda in Washington," she asserted.
The U.S. Chamber is pushing its own trade agenda in Congress and at the White House. Among its priorities are the pursuit of more free-trade agreements ("Chile and Mexico have more than 50 each...we have 17"); stronger enforcement of existing trade agreements; helping small and medium-sized businesses enter new markets; and greater coordination among federal agencies with authority over trade, Schweitzer reported.
The chamber is not limiting its outreach to policymakers. The group is taking it to the street, so to speak. Schweitzer—the former CEO of a commodities importer—and three staffers are traveling the country under the auspices of the CofC's TradeRoots program, talking up the importance of international business. The program's mission is to "promote American prosperity through international trade." Visitors to the TradeRoots Web site are greeted with a photo of a Depression-era bread line and this headline: "Buy American" means "bye American jobs."