Decisions that shape the future of Western New York are made every day in Washington, D.C., but few will have as much impact on the economic well-being of local companies, employees and their families as Trade Promotion Authority legislation.

TPA is the legislative mechanism that gives our trade negotiators credibility at the international negotiating table by requiring Congress to vote "up or down" on a trade agreement within a given period of time. This authority, which has been used by each president since Richard Nixon, expired in 1994.

Without it, foreign governments are reluctant to make agreements and concessions that could be changed later by Congress. As a result, the United States is not able to negotiate new trade pacts that eliminate foreign trade barriers.

How does this affect our company, Oxygen Generating Systems Inc.? Our products encounter significant barriers when exported. For example, industrial products sold to India are subject to a 33 percent import duty.

Export sales accounted for over 70 percent of our total business last year. High foreign trade barriers don't hurt just our business. Today, a growing number of locally owned businesses export their goods and services worldwide. Combined with the rest of the country, exports now account for approximately one-quarter of our nation's entire economic growth.

And companies dependent on exports are not just the multinationals. Our firm and other small to medium-sized companies that employ fewer than 100 or 500 workers, respectively, make up 97 percent of U.S. exporters.

Exports create higher-paying jobs, strengthen local companies and farms and improve our tax base, while sending export revenue to local restaurants, retail stores, etc. But the U.S.'s inability to effectively negotiate new trade agreements, as a result of not having a TPA, has put our country at risk. Consider this - strong free trade countries are much less likely to go to war with each other.

Since the TPA expired, the results, or rather lack of them, speak for themselves. Over 130 regional trade agreements are in force today across the globe; however, the United States is party to just two. We are the most competitive nation in the world, yet we rank 26th in the world in bilateral investment treaties.

And our global competitors are not waiting for us to wake up. Our inaction over the last seven years has allowed them to take advantage of our absence from the negotiating table. For example, the European Union has free trade agreements with 27 countries and is actively negotiating another 15. Approximately 33 percent of world exports in 1999 were covered by EU free trade and customs agreements. That's three times the amount covered by U.S. agreements.

Farmers, businesses, employees and their families in Western New York and across the nation feel the impact of U.S. nonparticipation. U.S. exports currently support an estimated 12 million jobs that typically pay 13 to 18 percent more than the average U.S. wage. In the absence of the TPA, combined with slower national economic growth, our local economy, companies and workers are at risk.

We urgently need to take action and catch up before it is too late. To preserve the future economic vitality of Western New York, I urge our local members of Congress to allow us to participate in new trade opportunities through the reauthorization of TPA.

This article appeared in The Buffalo News, September 9, 2001. (JLM)

Bob Schlehr
About The Author Bob Schlehr
Bob Schlehr is executive vice president of Oxygen Generating Systems Inc. in Niagara Falls, NY

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