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Originally published December 29, 2013 at 5:00 PM | Page modified December 30, 2013 at 11:36 AM

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Guest: Should Congress give Obama fast-track authority for trade deals? Yes

Congress must update and pass Trade Promotion Authority legislation, writes McClatchy-Tribune guest columnist Doug Oberhelman.


McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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LIKE most Americans, I’m frustrated with the slow rate of economic growth in the United States over the last several years.

Most proposals to fix the problem focus on domestic issues — government spending, taxes and infrastructure projects, to name a few.

As the chairman and chief executive officer of Caterpillar, I particularly like to talk about the need to invest in our nation’s infrastructure, which helps to make America more competitive in the world economy.

But while all of these issues are critically important to the U.S. economy, the opportunity to increase U.S. investment, growth and jobs requires us to go beyond America’s border.

Ninety-six percent of the world’s consumers live outside of the United States. In fact, in the last five years, Caterpillar has exported more than $82 billion in products manufactured at our factories in the United States, supporting tens of thousands of jobs. Creating opportunities for American companies to reach these consumers through new and expanded free-trade agreements can help to get our economy back on track and keep our nation globally competitive.

Today, trade supports more than one in five American jobs. U.S. exports have grown more than twice as fast as GDP since 2002, accounting for 14 percent of GDP in 2012. And workers in U.S. companies that export goods earn on average up to 18 percent more than those in similar jobs in non-exporting companies.

The United States is currently pursuing one of the most ambitious trade agendas in a generation, trade agreements that would open markets in the Asia-Pacific region and in Europe.

Also being negotiated is an agreement aimed at knocking down barriers to boost the global competitiveness of U.S. services companies. But to realize the economic benefits of these pending trade deals, Congress must update and pass Trade Promotion Authority legislation.

A partnership between Congress and the Administration, TPA legislation helps shape a strategic vision for U.S. trade policy and the goals the United States wants to accomplish in trade negotiations.

It provides a framework for Congress and the president to work together to craft that vision, and it helps define the critical constitutional relationship between Congress and the president with respect to foreign commerce.

From the 1930s until 2007, Congress has authorized every president to pursue trade agreements that open markets for U.S. goods and services. Such authority was last passed by Congress in 2002 and expired in 2007.

Updated TPA legislation would provide clear guidance on Congress’ requirements for trade agreements. It would also provide our trade negotiating partners with a degree of comfort that the United States is committed to the international trade negotiating process and the trade agreements we negotiate.

In the coming weeks it is expected that Congress will introduce updated TPA legislation. Congress should seize the opportunity to shore up the benefits of current and future trade agreements — increased U.S. investment, growth and jobs — by passing updated TPA legislation.

Working with the president to do so would ensure that the United States continues to pursue trade agreements that not only would allow companies like Caterpillar to remain globally competitive, but also would benefit America.

Doug Oberhelman is chairman and CEO of Caterpillar in Illinois and chairman of Business Roundtable’s International Engagement Committee.



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