- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 16, 2001

Trade permeates our lives, from the products we use in our daily lives to the jobs created by global competition. Yet it can be an abstract subject that is difficult to explain. U.S. business owners often have difficulty quantifying the tangible benefits of trade for their employees and customers. American workers often discount the benefits of expanded trade by pointing to friends who recently lost their jobs. In the midst of this complex debate, it is easier to be more fearful than hopeful.

Trade has, in fact, become a prism that reflects different images of the world depending on the viewpoint of the observer. This is true not just within our borders, but beyond. Many developed nations, such as the U.S., are now engaged in a dialogue about the impact of trade. For the millions of people in developing countries, increasing global trade presents an opportunity to climb from the bottom rung of the global economic ladder. In these countries, trade is often about something much more fundamental: an ability to attract investments in basic infrastructure, the seeds of a more stable political system, or a means toward more educational opportunities. We must be careful not to push them away.

Likewise, as developing nations open their doors, opportunities for America are endless. Trade equates to job creation, opportunity for American business and more choices for consumers. Yet despite the promise that lies in trade, we have not taken full advantage. While there are more than 130 free trade agreements in the world, the United States is party to only two. Of the 30 trade agreements in the Western Hemisphere, we belong to only one.

Every president since 1974 has had Trade Promotion Authority. Congress has consistently recognized that the administration must have the authority to break down foreign trade barriers, and a bipartisan majority of the United States Congress has consistently supported American leadership in opening markets and creating jobs.

This year, we face the question of how to address the emerging issues that have shaped the global economy in more recent years, including how to address the competitiveness issues raised by varying labor and environmental conditions in developing countries. The United States cannot negotiate another country's wage levels or environmental standards any more than the United States would permit other countries to determine our own. Promoting sustainable development practices and respect for worker rights is a gradual process, requiring commitment.

Our ability to build the capacity of developing nations to improve their labor and environmental laws will be greater if we can build upon economic relationships where our partners have a vested stake in close cooperation with the United States. These issues can be addressed in the context of trade agreements in a balanced manner. By granting this trade authority, Congress will send a positive message to the rest of the world that the United States will not surrender its role as an economic leader.

We have both traveled to Africa and witnessed firsthand the promise of expanded trade. Through trade, America can work to raise the standards of living in developing countries. One of the most significant accomplishments last Congress was the passage of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). This important new law demonstrates our increasing commitment to the countries in sub-Saharan Africa. AGOA provides significant new trade opportunities between the U.S. and sub-Saharan Africa and will help provide a foundation on which their economies can mature.

A vital component of a strong American economy is economic opportunity beyond our borders. If we deal well with our increasing opportunities to include developing nations in the broad map of global trade, the benefits will accrue not just to the people of these countries, but to the United States and the strength of our international relationships.

U.S. Rep. Jennifer Dunn, Washington Republican, and U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, Louisiana Democrat, are members of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade.

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