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Grant Obama trade promotion authority [Commentary]

Earlier this month, the powerful Senate Finance Committee met to consider crucial legislation that would grant the president Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which would make it easier for him to negotiate deals with other countries. Maryland's own Sen. Ben Cardin, who sits on that committee, will help decide whether the United States continues to lead the world in promoting jobs and market-opening trade deals or whether it falls behind.

TPA is a common sense procedural agreement between the legislative and executive branches of government, and every president since Franklin Roosevelt has had it, according to the National Association of Manufacturers, where I'm an executive board member. NAM describes TPA as a partnership between Congress and the president that facilitates deals and ensures "congressional input" on trade negotiations. TPA would also limit congressional consideration of deals and their amendment ability, giving the administration more power in trade negotiations.

Since TPA was last renewed in 2002, the United States has concluded trade agreements with 16 countries around the world. During that time, Maryland's annual manufactured goods exports have more than doubled to nearly $11 billion. My company manufactures material handling wire baskets and sheet metal fabrications wholly in Baltimore City; however we owe 25 percent of our jobs to our exports.

Recently, Sen. Barbara Mikulski visited our factory when we shipped a container of complex wire forms to China. Think about that — U.S. steel, U.S. robots and Maryland engineering and labor combined to execute a "Made in the USA" product that a Chinese receiving clerk in Shanghai will open weeks later and disseminate to his or her clients. We need more Baltimore jobs created because of expanded trading partners.

The U.S. wins on these deals. In fact, countries with which the U.S. has negotiated trade deals under TPA purchased more than 30 percent of Maryland's manufactured goods exports in 2012.

TPA is essential to pass pending trade agreements, including with 11 Pacific Rim nations — Maryland's largest export market. We need these prospects to sell to so we can grow and hire local talent and end the recession. Trade agreements are critical because they enable manufacturers to reach more of the 95 percent of the world's consumers who live outside the United States. These deals open up markets to Maryland manufacturers so we can compete for a greater share of the $11 trillion global market for manufactured goods. Trade agreements level the playing field so we have a better shot to grow jobs. The United States enjoys a $130 billion manufacturing trade surplus with its 20 trade agreement partners.

In Maryland alone, trade agreements drove manufactured goods exports contributing nearly $11 billion to the Maryland economy in 2012. Specifically, those exports supported more than 32,000 Maryland jobs — more than a quarter (27.8 percent) of all state manufacturing jobs.

Manufacturing jobs are great jobs. Jobs linked to manufactured goods exports pay, on average, 18 percent more than other jobs. Moreover trade does not just benefit big companies; export gains are broadly shared. Specifically, 88 percent of Maryland exporters are small businesses, like mine, with less than 500 employees.

Unfortunately, TPA expired in 2007 and must be renewed quickly to ensure America continues to lead in leveling the playing field for manufacturers and workers. The stakes are high. Without new market-opening trade agreements, manufacturers will be at a competitive disadvantage. The United States is open to the world but faces higher tariffs abroad than almost any other country. While we sit on the sidelines, other major economies are negotiating their own agreements that could put Maryland manufacturers and workers at a significant competitive disadvantage.

Tell our senators and representatives to vote for more great jobs by granting our president Trade Promotion Authority.

Drew Greenblatt is the president of Baltimore-based Marlin Steel, vice chairman of the governor's International Advisory Council and a member of the Maryland Commission on Manufacturing Competitiveness. His email address is DGreenblatt@marlinsteel.com.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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