The disturbing news from the Pacific is that China continues to beef up construction in disputed territory and spread its brand of “state capitalism.” At the same time, our allies question whether the United States is truly committed to being a world leader. In Europe, Russia continues its belligerence, and Europe is unable to respond effectively because of its dependence on Russian energy.
These are just two examples of why we need to strengthen our trade agenda. We need to pass trade promotion authority (TPA), so we can complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations—because deeper trade ties strengthen our national security and enhance U.S. leadership.
At the outset, trade agreements create opportunity and economic prosperity among our trading partners, which has a positive influence on national security by lifting people from poverty and desperation, where instability and extremism thrive. When economies fail, political regimes become unstable and more likely to become repressive. And societies become more susceptible to political extremism.
On the flip side, free-market policies require political regimes to cooperate with other governments and adhere to a rules-based trading system. This cooperation produces a private sector that demands fair treatment from the government and a middle class that controls its own economic success and invests in its society. Trade agreements that encourage free trade and investment build and support institutions that counter closed economic policies, political repression, and extremism.
The more we cooperate with our friends, the less they’ll depend on our rivals. By having a credible alternative through a strong TPP agreement, Asian nations won’t have to play by China’s rules, which are rigged against us. Similarly, the trade agreement we are negotiating with the EU can help break Russia’s stranglehold on that continent by supporting European energy independence and strengthening Europe’s ability to respond to Russian aggression.
If we don’t write the rules of the global economy, somebody else will. In the first ten years of this century, East Asian nations negotiated 48 trade agreements. The U.S., on the other hand, negotiated just two in that region. As a result, our share of East Asia’s imports fell by 42 percent. Every one of our top competitors did better. And in trade negotiations, when you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward. The Chinese are pursuing agreements with countries all over the world—from South Korea and Australia to Norway—that leave America out.
On a broader level, trade agreements show other countries we’re trustworthy partners. Trade agreements are a cost-effective way to show commitment and send a signal to our friends: the only way we do well is if you do well. We care about your future. And that’s the way our partners see it, too. Singapore, for instance, already has one of the most open economies in the world. Its main reason for joining TPP is to forge closer ties with the United States.
In addition, trade agreements encourage other countries to adopt our values of free enterprise in a free world. The more our countries grow together, the more they’ll work together. For instance, by lowering barriers to goods made in Central America, we’ve encouraged those countries to lower barriers between themselves, so they can make more goods and become better integrated regionally and with the United States. And that encourages free enterprise and entrepreneurship. If we help developing countries find their footing, they will remember and stand with the United States.
In short, trade agreements will strengthen our national security because they demonstrate our commitment, support U.S. values, and rebuild our credibility. As Chairman Ryan said in his remarks to the Washington International Trade Association earlier this month:
“We’ve left the world wondering, ‘Does the United States have staying power? Will it stick it out?’ Finishing these trade deals would emphatically say, ‘Yes.’ Yes, you can count on the United States. We will be there. We won’t abandon the field. We will stick up for free enterprise and free people.”