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Op-Ed -- The Oregonian -- Trade Promotion Bill Will Help Oregon Businesses

Saturday, March 7, 2014

Op-Ed by U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker

Opinion Editorial, Trade Promotion Bill Will Help Oregon Businesses

Tim Leatherman was born and raised in Oregon. He grew up with a knack for inventing things, and while traveling abroad as a young OSU graduate, he found he needed a pliers-based, multi-purpose tool that didn't seem to exist. This, he realized, was an opportunity to create a new product. 

He returned home and partnered with a friend to start Leatherman Tool Group more than 30 years ago. The first Pocket Survival Tool was sold in 1983, and for years, the business grew by selling its products to customers in the local community. As the company became more successful, Tim knew that he would have to tap a larger market to expand his business. 

The Leatherman Tool Group now sells more than 65 unique multi-tools to more than 120 countries. Exports have helped the company grow to employ nearly 600 Oregonians. 

Thousands of Oregon businesses like Leatherman are among the ranks of America's exporters. Merchandise exports from Oregon hit $20.9 billion in 2014, reaching a new record. 

Exports of goods from Oregon to overseas markets supported about 92,000 U.S. jobs in 2013. Nationwide, exports of goods and services from American businesses support 11.7 million jobs. These are good jobs that on average pay up to 18 percent more than jobs in non-exporting firms and related industries. 

This data tells us that exports are critical to economic growth and quality job creation in Oregon and communities across the country. With 95 percent of the world's potential consumers living outside the United States, opening more markets to made-in-America goods and services is fundamental to our nation's competitiveness, job creation and the economic security of our families. 

To ensure U.S. businesses and workers can access more global markets with fewer barriers, the Obama administration has set an ambitious trade agenda that includes the completion and implementation of new trade agreements. The Trans Pacific Partnership, which the U.S. is negotiating with 11 other nations, will give our products fairer access to new markets and establish new standards for the world's fastest-growing region. 

In addition to promoting economic growth, our trade agenda ensures that our companies are treated fairly in foreign markets. Our domestic market is already among the most open in the world, with low tariffs on foreign goods sold here and without unnecessary barriers to entry. However, many of our trading partners, especially in Asia, have created obstacles that disadvantage our companies. 

For example, a Leatherman multi-purpose tool made in Oregon currently faces tariffs as high as 25 percent in Malaysia and 20 percent in Vietnam.  Similar tools manufactured in China and Korea do not face any tariffs in those countries because of their existing trade agreements. Through the TPP, we are working to level the playing field so that Leatherman can compete on the same terms as competitors from China, Korea, Europe and elsewhere. 

Our trade agenda is also aimed at supporting our workers, promoting our values and raising the standards for doing business worldwide. From the environment to labor to intellectual property rights, we believe that trade in the 21st century should be defined by fair wages, safe workplaces and a protected environment. Labor and environmental standards are critical pillars in our new trade deals - and are backed up by strong enforcement provisions. 

Furthermore, our trade agenda will help secure America's global leadership in an increasingly interconnected world. We must work with our strategic allies and key partners to shape 21st century trade, and ensure that other countries such as China do not set the rules of the road with weaker standards. Our leadership is key to America's economic prosperity, our standing in the global community and thereby, our national security. 

However, our businesses and workers cannot benefit from new trade deals unless Congress does its part. The House of Representatives and the Senate must pass trade promotion legislation.  Leatherman Tool Group and our nation's exporters from coast to coast want the opportunity to compete on a level playing field, and the president's trade agenda will provide that.