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Orlando Sentinel: Julio Fuentes: Florida jobs, growth depend on Congress’ endorsing free trade

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

When Americans are asked what some of their biggest concerns are for the future of our country, the economy and unemployment continue to be high on the list. Some states, like Florida, have fared better than others in terms of an economic turnaround, but in both Florida and the rest of the United States, there is still work to be done to generate widespread prosperity.

Americans are also extremely frustrated with the political squabbles in Congress and with the president, which have resulted in a lack of leadership and a lack of action on important policies.

What is needed is for our leaders in Congress — including Congressman Bill Posey, R-Rockledge — to put aside partisan fights and get to work on a pro-growth agenda for U.S. workers and businesses. They should start with the Trade Promotion Authority.

International trade is one of Florida’s strongest sectors, which is why it is critically important that Floridians understand the major impact free trade has on our state. Florida is an exporting powerhouse, and we stand to benefit significantly from pro-growth trade policies. With our 15 deep-water seaports and 19 commercial airports, we are a major hub for merchandise trade between North America, Latin America, the Caribbean and other world regions. TPA will further open up the global marketplace to Florida’s businesses, drive economic growth and create jobs.

TPA has widespread bipartisan support, and it is a great opportunity for the president and Congress to work together and show some unity. It would be refreshing to see members of Congress on both sides of the aisle put aside partisanship and focus on moving forward on our state’s and our country’s economic recovery through pro-growth policies like TPA.

What TPA does is simple: It creates a framework for the passage and signing of trade deals. It sets the rules by which trade deals are considered and voted on, streamlining the process so that beneficial trade deals can’t be held up by a tiny fraction of our elected representatives.

Free trade is as close to a “no brainer” as we get in today’s complex and contentious political environment. The statistics are overwhelmingly positive. In Florida, 2.4 million jobs are supported by international trade. That’s one in five working Floridians. And because of free trade, these workers make higher wages and get more when spending them, as free trade drives down the costs of materials and goods coming into Florida from abroad.

The statistics speak for themselves. International business, including the value of trade in goods and services as well as foreign investment, accounts for about 17 percent of Florida’s economy. In total, Florida exported more than $96 billion in goods and services in 2013 — everything from aerospace parts to oranges.

Florida exports 49 percent of what is produced in the state, which is higher than any other state in the country. In comparison, the U.S. exports only 20 percent of total production.

Florida is home to more than 60,000 exporting companies, which makes us second only to California. Of those 60,000-plus companies, 95 percent are small- or medium-sized businesses. Free trade is not just for big corporations — it’s for Main Street shops, small manufacturers, farmers, ranchers and fishermen as well.

Some question the need for free trade at all: “There are hundreds of millions of people in America; why do we need to worry about the rest of the world?” The answer is as simple as it is powerful: 95 percent of the world’s population harnessing 80 percent of the global purchasing power live — and shop — outside the United States.

If we don’t actively work to open these markets to Florida goods and services, the Chinese, Indians, Brazilians and a dozen others will reap the benefits, and it will be Florida businesses, workers and families that ultimately suffer — along with the rest of the country.

Florida’s business community needs Congress to work together to pass TPA. It is a critical step in establishing a pro-growth, pro-business agenda to help drive our economy forward.

Julio Fuentes is the president and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

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