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The Tampa Tribune: Cynthia Henderson: Free trade equals prosperity for Sunshine State

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Free trade is one of the most important factors in Florida’s economic success. Our state exports about $100 billion in goods and services each year, supporting more than 2 million jobs.

Although Florida’s economy is steadily improving, we need to expand trade in order to continue to drive growth and prosperity forward in the Sunshine State. In order to do so, however, Congress must pass Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).

TPA has been criticized by some who claim that it cedes legislative power to the executive branch and undermines American workers by fostering trade deals that end up costing U.S. jobs. Both of these claims are not true.

TPA is simply an agreement between Congress and the White House that lays out the ground rules for how to deal with trade pacts. For decades both parties have recognized the deep and powerful benefits of free trade, and from FDR to George W. Bush we’ve had in place a special system for getting these deals smoothly through Congress with minimal political interference.

This system (in one form or another, and under various titles) is TPA. However, TPA expired in 2007, and Congress has failed to renew it. With major trade deals with Europe and Asia on the table, now is the time to reinstate TPA and secure the best deals possible in support of U.S. businesses and workers.

There is little question that international trade benefits Florida. In 2013, roughly 62,000 Florida companies exported $96 billion in goods and services and supported 2.4 million jobs. These companies range from major multinationals to mom-and-pop shops to mid-sized citrus groves and fishing operations.

In total, 95 percent of Florida exporters are small or medium businesses of under 500 employees.

Another powerful “95” statistic? That’s the percentage of the global population (i.e., potential customers) who reside outside of the United States. This massive market controls 80 percent of the world’s purchasing power. Without access to these consumers, American companies will fall behind.

There is bipartisan agreement — including between congressional Republicans and President Obama — about the need for TPA. I strongly encourage U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, to support passage of TPA as soon as possible so we can help expand even more Florida businesses and create good jobs and opportunities for Florida’s working families.

Many Republicans are reluctant to, as they perceive it gives President Obama more power.

Many Democrats, meanwhile, are worried that free trade with certain countries will undermine the position of American workers.

These are both laudable concerns in general, but don’t really make sense when applied specifically to TPA.

TPA does not relinquish congressional authority.

It is a way for Congress and the White House to work together to actively promote the United States’ economic interests abroad.

And free trade helps working Americans by boosting wages and cutting the prices of consumer goods.

With rare bipartisan agreement on Trade Promotion Authority, as well as major trade deals in the thick of negotiations, now is the time for Congress to act.

Cynthia Henderson owns Cynergy Consulting, a governmental consulting firm, and Cynthia A. Henderson, P.A., a law firm. She is a former secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and Florida Department of Management Services. She is president of the Florida Federation of Republican Women.

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