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At the President’s Export Council, Leading on Trade Isn’t Optional—It’s Essential

National Economic Council Director Jeff Zients shares why leading American businesses want Congress to give President Obama the authority to secure the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The conversation at the President’s Export Council (PEC) I attended this morning took on a greater urgency than usual, amid the ongoing Congressional debate on trade. The assembled business leaders on the Council represent companies large and small and a broad cross-section of our economy. They understand firsthand the opportunities for their businesses and the hundreds of thousands of American workers they employ with the President’s trade agenda. They get the advantages to opening new markets, setting new global standards, and leading the world in establishing the rules for 21st century commerce.

The meeting today—and the broader debate about how we trade with the rest of the world—comes after five straight years of record exports and at a time when the United States is operating from a position of relative strength, poised to out-compete the rest of the world. But the crucial next step to setting export records well into the future is for Congress to approve Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) — to help the President lock in new, high-standard trade agreements, securing deals that level the playing field for our businesses and our workers.

The numbers are compelling. 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside our borders. In Asia alone, 3.2 billion people will join the middle class by 2030. In 2014, U.S. exports supported 11.7 million American jobs – jobs that pay as much as 18 percent higher wages on average. Last year, U.S. companies exported over $2.3 trillion in goods and services – a record. Over 300,000 U.S. companies export, 98 percent of which are small and medium businesses.

But the TPA is about more than opening up economic opportunity. The legislation currently being debated in the House includes strong, enforceable standards related to workers’ rights and environmental protection, as well as measures to protect a free and open Internet and new robust measures to address unfair currency practices. TPA will help the President conclude negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with partners across the world’s most dynamic region and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) with our largest trading partner, the European Union. When both TPP and TTIP are complete, companies based in the United States will enjoy unfettered access to foreign markets representing more than two-thirds of the global economy.

As the President highlighted following the Senate’s passage of TPA last month, high-standard trade agreements, “are vital to expanding opportunities for the middle class, leveling the playing field for American workers, and establishing rules for the global economy that help our businesses grow and hire by selling goods Made in America to the rest of the world.”

For the PEC members this morning and for the hundreds of thousands of exporting business leaders like them, taking advantage of these expanded opportunities isn’t optional, it’s essential. And America must fill its indispensable leadership role by securing these crucial new agreements.

Jeff Zients is Director of the National Economic Council.