Why should Florida care about greater access to Asian markets? From where I sit as the U.S. Ambassador to Singapore — the regional hub of the fastest growing market in the world — the potential benefits to neighborhoods and communities across the United States, and especially the Sunshine State, are worth writing home about.
These benefits can be realized through passage of one of the most important pieces of trade legislation before our Congress in years: the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015. Successful passage of the Act would enable us to finalize negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal facilitating an increase in the 11.7 million jobs across the nation that exports supported in 2014.
TPP would provide abundant new opportunities for the nearly 300,000 American small- and medium-sized enterprises that export goods. In fact, one myth being pushed by free-trade naysayers is that trade agreements primarily favor big business. The facts on the ground in Florida completely debunk that.
Of the 61,489 companies that exported goods from Florida in 2013, a whopping 58,626, or 95.3 percent, were small- and medium-sized enterprises with fewer than 500 employees each. Another misconception is that free-trade deals lead to outsourcing of jobs in our communities. Again, the facts evidence the exact opposite.
Goods exports from Florida supported more than 270,000 jobs in 2014. Consider the track record of previous free trade agreements the United States currently has in place with 20 countries. Since 2004, Florida’s exports under our FTAs to these markets expanded by 89 percent, accounting for $21.8 billion of our state’s $58.6 billion in exports last year.
The Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach area, by far, is the biggest benefactor, contributing a huge portion of Florida’s exports at $41.8 billion.
This area has become the seventh largest export center nationwide. Those who claim that free trade harms our economy are simply wrong.
Ninety-five percent of the world’s consumers live outside the United States. Just as no businessman can afford to ignore where his customers live and shop, the United States is no different. Our superior brands, efficient agricultural production and goods and services industries will find a huge market in the Asia-Pacific, where the world’s most rapidly expanding middle-class consumer market is expected to reach as many as 3.2 billion customers by 2030. However, to tap that market we have to be present and accounted for.
U.S. companies are the most innovative and competitive in the world. To maintain that standing and compete effectively, our companies need a level playing field with clear rules and high standards. The TPP will do just that, allowing our businesses, farmers and services providers the chance to compete fairly in open and transparent markets, now and in the future. Through the TPP, we will enshrine standards that provide a powerful alternative to protectionism, state-led activity and mercantilism that large emerging powers would impose on the region.
Failure to conclude the TPP, however, would weaken our leadership and standing region-wide. In that event, our competitors will shape the rules of trade and tilt the economic order of the Asia-Pacific against us and cause us to forfeit a leadership and standard-setting role.
Beyond securing U.S. access to the world’s fastest growing markets, Congressional passage of the Act, and eventual support for TPP, will reassure a region that has long welcomed the United States but now faces uncertainties with the rise of larger emerging powers. Conversely, a failure to move forward on a major trade pact would be read as a retreat of U.S. leadership.
In short, Florida’s businesses, large and small, and our nation as a whole, stand to reap significant benefits as the Asia-Pacific’s rapidly expanding middle class demands for products and services. Our interests and future prosperity are inextricably entwined with that of our friends and partners in this vital part of the world.
The United States’ decades-long engagement with and commitment to the Asia-Pacific region has always benefited from a strong bipartisan conviction that the United States must be a leading Pacific power. The success story of U.S. leadership and engagement must continue. The trade legislation now before Congress and the TPP can write the next chapter.
Kirk Wagar is the U.S. ambassador to Singapore. He is a graduate of the University of Miami Law School and was formerly managing partner of Wagar Law, P.A., a Miami-based law firm.