State Economy Draws Strength from Trade

Susanne T. Stirling, vice president, international affairs

As the Trump administration and the 115th Congress now are into their second year, the California Chamber of Commerce continues to communicate its international trade priorities and support for working together to secure a national free trade agenda. The designation of May as World Trade Month each year provides an opportunity to acknowledge the importance of global trade—the regular attacks notwithstanding—and the economic advances that international commerce makes possible.

Promoting Trade a Priority

California’s economy is more diversified than ever, and the state’s prosperity is tied to exports and imports of both goods and services by California-based companies, to exports and imports through California’s transportation gateways, and to inflows and outflows of human and capital resources.

Accordingly, promoting the ability of California companies to compete more effectively in foreign markets continues to be a high priority for the CalChamber, along with attracting foreign business to the state.

In 2017, California exports amounted to $171.93 billion, an increase from the 2016 total of $163.6 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. California maintained its perennial position as a top exporting state, accounting for 11% of total U.S. exports in 2017.

Trade Agreements

Trade agreements (the U.S. has 20) ensure that the United States may continue to gain access to world markets, which will result in an improved economy and additional employment of Americans.

The CalChamber urges support of these trade agreements that will continue to keep U.S. and California businesses competitive. Although the recent trend has been to regional trade agreements, the CalChamber will also be supportive of bilateral trade agreements.

2018 Priority Issues

Trans-Pacific Relations

During the last decade, growth in U.S. exports to Asia has lagged behind overall export growth. The United States is gradually losing market share in trade with Asian countries, which have negotiated more than 160 trade agreements among themselves, while the United States has signed only three (with South Korea, Singapore and Australia).

In March, the United States and South Korea announced an agreement in principle on the general terms of amendments and modifications to the U.S.-Republic of Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS). The CalChamber has reaffirmed our support for the agreement.

Earlier in March, 11 Pacific Rim countries signed the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP-11). The updated pact, finalized just more than a year after U.S. withdrawal left its fate in question, retains all the tariff reductions and eliminations from the original version signed in 2016 by the 11 nations and the United States. TPP-11 suspends 22 other provisions, including some intellectual property rules.

The TPP-11 will reduce tariffs in countries that together amount to more than 13% of the global economy—a total of $10 trillion in gross domestic product. Even without the United States, the deal will span a market of nearly 500 million people, making it one of the world’s largest trade agreements.

The TPP-11 will take effect after at least six countries have approved it. President Donald Trump also has recently expressed interest in rejoining TPP-11 after his top trade priorities have been accomplished.

The CalChamber certainly would consider supporting new bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements in the Pacific region; however, the larger Pacific picture needs to be assessed for trade, investment, geo-political and strategic implications.

Trans-Atlantic Relations

The CalChamber is supportive of Europe and the United States continuing trade talks. In the interim, it may be that a U.S.-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement is negotiated. The UK must exit from the EU before it can negotiate new agreements.

The CalChamber certainly would consider supporting such a new bilateral free trade agreement.

The Americas

Now that the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is well underway, the CalChamber urges a quick and efficient process, and one that does not hinder ongoing trade and investment among the three NAFTA members, who must be kept united in the same end-goal of a successful renegotiation.

The CalChamber’s long-standing support for NAFTA is based upon an assessment that it serves the employment, trading and environmental interests of California and the United States, as well as Canada and Mexico, and is beneficial to the business community and society as a whole.

NAFTA has been beneficial for U.S. industries, agricultural enterprises, farmers, ranchers, energy companies and automakers. The renegotiation of NAFTA must recognize the gains achieved and ensure that U.S. trade with Canada and Mexico remains strong and without interruption.

Export-Import Bank of the United States

Although an overwhelming majority in Congress voted to fully reauthorize the CalChamber-supported Export-Import Bank of the United States in December 2015, the appointed members have been on “political hold” in the U.S. Senate. This leaves the Ex-Im Bank Board without a quorum, and unable to approve transactions of more than $10 million.

The drop in authorizations represents numerous lost opportunities for U.S. businesses—large and small—and their workers. With economic growth and job creation the top priorities for the United States, Ex-Im has an important role to play, and it is hoped this issue will come to a resolution in Congress in 2018.

Susanne T. Stirling is vice president of international affairs for the California Chamber of Commerce,

Susanne T. Stirling
Susanne T. Stirling, senior vice president, international affairs, has headed CalChamber international activities for more than four decades. She is an appointee of the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to the National Export Council, and serves on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce International Policy Committee, the California International Relations Foundation, and the Chile-California Council. Originally from Denmark, she studied at the University of Copenhagen and holds a B.A. in international relations from the University of the Pacific, where she served as a regent from 2012 to 2021. She earned an M.A. from the School of International Relations at the University of Southern California. See full bio.