The first American president to visit Tacoma, Benjamin Harrison, remarked upon arriving in 1891: “A harbor like this … should be made to bear a commerce that is but yet in its infancy.”
Eight years later, commerce was growing so quickly that British writer Rudyard Kipling arrived to find a city “literally staggering under a boom of the boomiest.” Today, Tacoma is home to one of the largest container ports in North America, and the economic opportunity that President Harrison recognized for the Puget Sound has grown even larger in the 21st century.
Unlocking that opportunity for Tacomans, and for all Americans, is the central purpose of President Obama’s trade agenda. From exporting more made-in-Washington goods and services to the Asia-Pacific to vigilantly enforcing our existing agreements, every aspect of our trade policy benefits Washington state’s workers and businesses.
In Tacoma and throughout America, these efforts are already bearing fruit. Last year, Washington exported a record $81.6 billion in goods, making it the nation’s fourth top state in terms of goods exported. Nationwide, U.S. goods and services exports hit $2.3 trillion, a record-breaking total that supported more than 11 million American jobs. Ranking among the very best in terms of exports per capita, Washington’s workers and businesses should take a bow.
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Chief among those deserving praise for these record-setting performances are Washington’s small businesses. Of course, industry leaders like Amazon, Boeing, and Microsoft are key contributors to the state’s rising exports. But of the more than 12,500 Washington companies that exported in 2012, 90 percent were businesses with fewer than 500 employees.
I had the privilege of meeting some of Tacoma’s small business leaders during a visit to Washington earlier this month. U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer introduced me to Jeff Hohman, who leads Northwest Door, a family-owned business that sells garage doors in markets around the world, from Australia to Saudi Arabia. I also met Ali Khaksar, president of TagMaster North America, which sells its long-range radio-frequency systems to customers across North America and Latin America.
With 95 percent of the world’s customers living outside our borders, it’s critical that we help local businesses like these increase their exports and support Puget Sound jobs. That’s why we’re negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an agreement between the United States and 11 countries throughout the Asia-Pacific that will cover nearly 40 percent of the world’s economy.
By lowering tariffs on U.S. exports while raising labor and environmental standards, this agreement will level the playing field for Tacoma workers and business in three of Washington state’s top five markets.
Our ambitions for increasing U.S. exports extend well beyond the Pacific. Through the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP), we’re working to strengthen economic ties with America’s largest market, the European Union. We’re also advancing American interests and values through a series of negotiations on services, informational technology and environmental goods. At the same time, we’re vigilantly enforcing our existing agreements and addressing a range of unwarranted barriers to exports from Washington and across the country.
All of these efforts will shape not only Tacoma’s economic future, but also the character of the global trading and investment system itself. Since World War II, American leadership of that system has brought jobs to our ports on the Pacific and peace and prosperity to those around the world who have embraced the principles of openness and fairness.
As President Harrison said during his visit to Tacoma, “We must step forward with bold progress, or we will lose the advantage we have already attained.”
Michael Froman has been the United States Trade Representative since June 2013. As USTR, he is President Obama’s principal adviser, negotiator and spokesperson on international trade and investment issues.