As a former chair of the Republican Study Committee (RSC) when I served in Congress – I like to think I know a thing or two about conservative values. And with the U.S. House poised to take up Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), it’s critical for conservatives to look past the president sitting in the White House and look toward America’s future. Trade is not only critical for U.S. global leadership, it helps improve the lives of workers and families right here at home. Currently, trade supports 1 in 5 jobs in America, and, by opening up more markets to U.S. exports, we ensure that we can compete with the rest of the world and help build an economy that provides good, high-paying jobs for our children.
These agreements also help us share our values of economic and individual freedom with other countries. As Ronald Reagan said, “You knew that in the end it was free enterprise, not government regulation, not high taxes or big government spending, but free enterprise, that had led to the building of a great America.” Our nation’s support for free trade goes back to the 1770s when our founding fathers, and the first tea party patriots, fought to end unfair taxation and stop British trade barriers controlling imports that were harming colonial businesses and consumers.
While the world has changed, trade barriers have not kept jobs in America – in fact, they have prevented us from expanding job creation. A perfect example of this can be found in the footwear industry – where the tariffs (taxes paid on imports) on each pair of shoes can be as high as 67.5 percent despite the fact that 99 percent of all shoes sold in the U.S. are imported. Rather than helping retain jobs, these tariffs are holding back footwear companies from hiring more footwear designers, innovators, truckers, marketing professionals, retail associates and U.S. manufacturing workers.
These “hidden taxes” are also needlessly driving up the cost of shoes for hardworking American families, with many of the highest rates applied to children’s sneakers and lower-cost shoes. To help consumers save money and give them more choices — and significantly increase American jobs in the footwear industry — America needs to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade agreement currently being negotiated between the U.S. and 11 Pacific countries.
TPA is the process that Congress uses to consider trade agreements such as TPP. It forms a partnership between Congress and the President that sends a message to our trading partners and makes certain we have the best possible outcomes in trade negotiations. It allows congressional representatives to define the objectives that must be met in trade agreements (including the close to 150 objectives Congress wrote in the TPA-2015 bill) and requires the president to talk with Congress frequently. It gives Congress, not the president, the final say — every Member of Congress must still vote on any trade agreement, and they can decide to vote against it. The TPA-2015 bill also provides unprecedented transparency for the American people, because it will make the text of a trade agreement available to the public, for two months, before the President can sign it.
TPA does not give any new authority to the President; the same authority has been enjoyed by every President since Franklin Roosevelt. That includes Ronald Reagan, who used TPA to craft and finalize important free trade agreements with Israel and Canada. In 2002, the overwhelming majority of RSC members voted to give President Bush this same authority. The RSC was actually the largest voting bloc in Congress supporting TPA passage in 2002.
I voted for TPA when it passed the House in 2002, and I also supported the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) in 2005 and other trade agreements with countries such as Australia and Singapore. When I did, I went home and talked with people about how trade helps to keep America strong.
The district that I represented in Congress had one of the largest number of textile plants still remaining in America as well as many other manufacturing facilities. When the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) came before Congress in 2005, I rolled up my sleeves, met with company owners and workers across my district, and spent a lot of time listening to their thoughts and concerns. I also began to share with them my beliefs about the positive impact free trade would have for generations to come.
These were not always easy conversations, but I remained steadfast because my decision was based on convictions that America always has a better future when it lowers economic barriers and unleashes the free market across the globe. Over time, sentiments shifted as individuals in my district began to understand the tangible benefits of open markets. My constituents respected me for explaining my vote and standing for what I thought was right. I learned that Americans want leadership and will respect and vote for someone who shoots straight with them even if they do not always agree.
In the words of Ronald Reagan, “This isn’t a time for us to be afraid, to be erecting barriers, or to be trying to shut out the world. Instead, we should be working to open markets, to increase our productivity, and to meet the competition head-on.” It is my hope that Members of Congress will continue to lead us to a stronger economy and a brighter future by supporting the passage of TPA and free trade agreements.
Representative Myrick represented the 9th District of North Carolina in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2013. She currently serves as Strategic Policy Advisor to the Footwear Distributors & Retailers of America (FDRA), the largest footwear trade association in the U.S.