Ursula M. Burns is chairman and chief executive of Xerox Corporation. Arne M. Sorenson is president and chief executive of Marriott International.
As the chair and vice chair of the President’s Export Council , we have had the privilege of helping the Obama administration develop and implement policies that enabled the United States to grow exports 22 percent over the past five years. As we conclude our tenure, we believe strongly that there is still one piece of pivotal and urgent unfinished business in the ongoing fight to propel growth and help American businesses — large, medium and small — export their goods and services abroad.
The Obama administration has negotiated a groundbreaking trade agreement with 11 other nations known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). In normal times, you would expect such an agreement to be met by bipartisan support and win passage by Congress. As we all know, these are not normal times. The TPP is being held hostage to the most divisive presidential campaign in memory. Shame on us if we let that continue.
Although the TPP has become a flashpoint for economic insecurity and anti-globalization angst, we believe it merits neither. The fiercely independent and highly credible U.S. International Trade Commission estimates that after 15 years, the TPP would result in increases in annual real income, exports and gross domestic product in the United States. In an era of slow growth and economic uncertainty, such increases are nothing to sneeze at. The broader impact of the TPP is not so obvious but arguably more important. Here’s why.
First, exports matter. For the past 50 years, the export of goods and services has trended higher and now accounts for about 13 percent of our GDP and supports 1 in 12 U.S. jobs. Equally important, workers in export-intensive manufacturing industries earn 18 percent more, on average, than those in other manufacturing sectors. The TPP would eliminate some 18,000 tariffs, making our exports less costly and more competitive. Removing those tariffs would translate directly into more exports abroad and sustain more good-paying jobs at home.
Second, change is the law of life. The U.S. economy has to adjust to meet the challenges and reap the rewards of global competition. That need for continuous change is not likely to abate anytime soon. Quite the opposite is more likely — acceleration in the pace of change. This plays to America’s predilection for innovation and entrepreneurship. One example: Asia-Pacific millennials and a rising middle class are looking to the United States to meet their needs for digital products and services. The TPP would establish a more secure framework for digital commerce by enabling data flows across borders. That’s essential for American businesses.
Third, embracing the TPP is the right thing to do. It gives the United States a stunning opportunity to export not only our goods and services but our values as well. The free flow of trade has always led slowly but surely to the free flow of ideas. The United States stands on the right side of history when we lead on issues such as worker rights, conservation, protecting innovation, transparency and the rule of law. The TPP positions us to do all of the above, but we have to be in it to win it. Staying out of the TPP would gravely diminish our ability to help shape future norms in a rapidly growing part of the world.
Fourth, trade supports peace. Fostering mutually beneficial commercial interests reinforces peaceful relations among nations. The TPP is an important tangible expression of U.S. commitment and leadership in the Asia-Pacific, promoting geopolitical stability and shared prosperity. This particular agreement is a sign of how far U.S. leadership in the region has evolved over the past 70 years: The TPP would establish free-trade agreements with two former adversaries — Vietnam and Japan — and integrate them and the nine other nations that have signed the agreement into a broader commercial fabric. This is truly a historic opportunity that we cannot let slip away.
Fifth, nature abhors a vacuum. Any further delay in implementing the TPP invites other nations to step forward in shaping the future of trade and commerce in the Asia-Pacific. That would be a needless and regrettable blow to America’s competitiveness and leadership. Sixteen nations across Asia are already engaged in trade negotiations to conclude a trade deal that has less ambitious standards and excludes the United States. We cannot risk long-term economic isolation because of near-term political expediency or vitriolic debate.
We would be the first to admit that no agreement is perfect, certainly not one that marries the interests of 12 independent nations. Waiting for perfection is not an option. Neither is waiting until a new administration arrives in Washington. It is imperative that the Obama administration and Congress use the coming months to work out their differences and do what is patently in the interests of our nation and our world by passing the TPP into law this year.