U.S. electroindustry companies sell billions of dollars of equipment outside the U.S. each year. These companies employ many thousands of workers here in the U.S., workers whose employment depends on the ability of their company “teams” to innovate, make sales, and satisfy their customers. With most of the world’s people (95 percent) and supporting infrastructure outside the U.S., it makes sense that companies want to gain access to more markets, be competitive, and make more sales in those markets. If they do not have access, or if they are not competitive, they will not make the sales. That competition must take place within the bounds of local laws, regulations and standards. However, to facilitate fair private-sector competition, innovation (including technological change) and positive social change governments’ laws, regulations and standards have to be updated in parallel. Moreover, it happens that outdated laws, regulations and standards are more trade-restrictive than necessary to fulfill their objectives, whether those be protecting consumers or safeguarding the environment. Outdated infrastructure is also a major impediment to U.S. companies striving to compete abroad.

To support U.S. businesses and their workers, the Obama Administration has launched market access negotiations with eleven countries in the Asia-Pacific and twenty-eight countries in Europe. To enable Congress to play an integral role in these broad and ambitious negotiations and consider any eventual agreements between the U.S. and foreign partners on their merits, the President has requested Congress approve legislation granting Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). Formerly known as “fast track”, the tool now known as TPA was first granted by Congress to presidents over 40 years ago to allow the Executive Branch to negotiate with foreign nations to eliminate tariff and non-tariff barriers.  Most recently, the TPA mechanism was updated in 2002 to ensure that local environmental and labor standards are upheld, not trumped by any trade agreement. The Trade Act of 2002 was essential to the negotiation, congressional approval, implementation and enforcement of a series of bilateral trade agreements with Australia, Singapore, Korea and countries in Central and South America.    

A couple of weeks ago, prior to the President’s mention in this week’s State of the Union address, a bipartisan and modernized TPA bill was introduced in the House and Senate. The Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act would set specific negotiating objectives for the Executive and go farther than ever before to make Members of Congress active participants and advisors to the President’s team during the talks with foreign governments. It also would update U.S. law to ensure that adherence to labor and environmental standards must be an integral part of any trade agreement. For the first time, a TPA bill also directs the President to target currency manipulation, a tactic national governments can use distort import and export prices and competition. That trade opponents’ emotional criticisms and pleas to “protect U.S. jobs” lack a factual basis is clear not only based on their reactionary point of view toward businesses and in the black-and-white text of the legislation itself.

As the President stated in his speech Tuesday night, our competitors, including but not limited to China and Europe, are unlikely to stand by and wait for Capitol Hill to support opening more export opportunities to American electroindustry companies and workers’ goods and services. The best ways to support our companies and workers is to learn from the past, look toward the future, and empower our companies to compete. That is what TPA would do and that is why NEMA supports it. Contact your Members of Congress to tell them you do too and to urge their support. #tpa4usjobs


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