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Why the President’s Trade Agenda is an Integral Part of Our National Security Strategy

The President’s trade agenda is fundamentally about American leadership. It is about securing long-standing relationships, improving cooperative mechanisms and extending America’s values around the world.

This evening we hosted a roundtable discussion at the White House with some of our country’s brightest minds on geopolitics and America’s foreign policy.  This remarkable group came together to discuss not the usual slate of foreign policy issues, but the President’s trade agenda.  

As the public debate on trade picks up, there is a lot of discussion on the size of the economic opportunity that lies beyond our borders, the potential benefits for American workers and consumers and the importance of trade agreements in setting enforceable standards to protect the environment and labor rights. 

While these issues rightly garner attention and focus, it’s also important to look at trade agreements through the lens of America’s leadership.  The President’s trade agenda is fundamentally about American leadership.  It is about securing long-standing relationships, improving cooperative mechanisms and extending America’s values around the world. 

Trade agreements and our commercial relationships have significant implications for U.S. national security and foreign policy interests, and that is why it is so important to hear from some of our most prominent national security experts, including senior officials from both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Our global strategic interests are intimately linked with our broader economic interests.  The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) would place the U.S. at the center of a free trade area that spans two thirds of the global economy.  They will set rules and standards others will aspire to meet. 

If, on the other hand, we fail to conclude the TPP in the Asia-Pacific and T-TIP in Europe, then we will have missed a crucial opportunity to lead the effort to shape global commerce and set standards for the 21st century.

“The United States did not rise to greatness by waiting for others to lead,” said President Kennedy on the importance of U.S. trade diplomacy.  He was right – if the United States leads, we ensure that outcomes support our strategic objectives and are consistent with long-term U.S. interests such as innovation, transparency and stakeholder involvement in decision making, and the protection of labor rights and the environment.

If we lead, we shape outcomes.  We want the regional architecture for trade in strategic regions such as Asia to reflect U.S. values and benefit U.S. stakeholders, including workers, farmers, and exporters.  If we do not take the lead, we risk ceding leadership to other countries that do not share our interests and our values. 

I am sure we may be hearing more of the trade debate in the weeks ahead.  But we should remember that the stakes are about much more than economic opportunity, fair competition and high standards. They are also about American national security interests, and, fundamentally, American leadership.