How Free Trade with Europe Could Ignite the Economy; but Complacency Could Undermine High Hopes
Byline: Bill Horan, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk confirmed recently that he's leaving Washington for the private sector. He deserves praise for the Obama administration's major achievement on trade: final approval of free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea that had been negotiated by President Bush and his trade representatives but languished in Washington for years.
These three deals are already helping the U.S. economy by making it easier for Americans to sell goods and services abroad.
Complacency now becomes a danger. Exports have fueled America's sluggish economy for several years, but they've slowed down in recent months. As Mr. Obama begins his second term, he must first find a new trade diplomat and then push for new agreements.
An excellent opportunity awaits across the Atlantic Ocean: The White House should actively pursue a U.S.-European Union free-trade agreement, which would benefit Americans directly and improve conditions around the globe.
Three years ago, Mr. Obama announced his National Export Initiative, promising that U.S. exports would double in five years. Initial signs suggested that he might make good on this pledge, as exports expanded by about 11 percent in 2010. Yet they've dropped ever since, to less than 7 percent in 2011 and, according to the latest figures, less than 4 percent in 2012.
At this rate, we'll fall far short of the administration's goal.
The president will blame the lousy world economy, and he'll have a point. Yet there's no reason to admit defeat - and in a poor climate, developing an aggressive trade agenda that helps Americans export goods and services becomes even more urgent.
Together, the United States and the EU are responsible for almost half of the world's gross domestic product. We already trade a lot: trans-Atlantic trade is worth more than $900 billion annually. Still, we can do even better. The European Commission believes that an ambitious agreement could boost trade by 50 percent.
Generating that much economic activity would be like passing a stimulus program. Even better, it wouldn't cost our debt-ridden government a penny. Simply by lowering tariffs on both continents, new trade would generate business, creating opportunities for entrepreneurs and jobs for workers.
The alternative is to do nothing - and doing nothing isn't free. In fact, it could prove costly. Last year, U.S. exports to the EU actually declined by about 1 percent. …