This morning at a House of Representatives committee hearing, a major U.S. manufacturer and exporter testifed that the country's transportation and port infrastructure is inadequate to meet its needs to get its products to overseas customers. What solution is the company using to stay competitive in the global marketplace? Ship their products from Canadian ports. How is this possible (on many levels)? Let's take a quick look at this situation, since it points to a series of realities about our world today.
Access to growing foreign markets is vital to U.S. manufacturers, with 95 percent of the world's consumers living outside the U.S. Some large markets like Europe and Japan are, like the U.S., pretty "mature", but the U.S. is well placed to compete on a level playing field in those markets if non-tariff barriers are removed. At the same time, most countries are developing and growing faster than the U.S. and are investing in building infrastructure to provide to their citizens many of the services (highways, airports, electricity) that we have come to take for granted. Meanwhile, in recent years the U.S. has under-invested in its infrastructure to the extent that it cannot be trusted to meet the logistical needs of a U.S. manufacturer and employer trying to make sales abroad.
Trade policy wonks are talking about two important recent milestones that are directly relevant to my rant. First, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) turned 20 years old on January 1. Like most children who emerge from their fraught teens, NAFTA may not progressed as smoothly as its parents may have wished. However, just as healthy children are not grown in complete isolation, trade agreements do not operate in a vacuum but are merely part of the enabling framework under which business is done. NAFTA has been a major success for the electroindustry, with increased trade among the U.S., Mexico and Canada and a solid North American economic partnership.
Second, three leaders in the House and Senate put forward legislation last week to enable the President to work with Congress on further efforts to open important foreign markets and set a level playing field on which U.S. companies can compete. NEMA is working with its member companies to strongly support passage of the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act, which is a crucial tool for current negotiations with Europe, Japan, and growing markets in the Asia-Pacific.
In conclusion, it should be clear that for U.S. companies to compete effectively in the global market, the U.S. must be engaged abroad — and at home.