Why trade legislation matters to our families here at home and abroad

You have likely heard many arguments from both sides of the debate concerning the passage of trade legislation and whether or not it is good for the country.

As the National Deputy Director of the Minority Business Development Agency, I know that open and fair trade is an effective way for American businesses to sell goods and services to the 95 percent of global consumers who live outside of the U.S.

As a Chinese American, and the first generation of my family born here, I also know the power of open and fair trade to help Asian American-owned businesses in the United States, as well as the countries that some families still call home. In my travels around the country, I have personally met AAPI business owners who immigrated to the United States and have started their own successful businesses after many years of hard work.  Some of these successful owners export products back to the countries from which they’ve come because these countries crave American innovation and quality products.

This proves the impact of open and fair trade on both sides of the commercial equation.  Asian American-owned firms have strong export potential because of their capabilities in language; cultural and business practice competence; networks of personal and commercial support; and an understanding of foreign markets. These strengths produce even greater commercial success. This success allows them to:  employ more workers, offer higher pay, yield higher average sales, and ultimately grow their businesses in size, scale and impact. The numbers say it all – Asian American-owned businesses that export employ an average of 21 people and report average annual sales of around $8.4 million, compared to their non-exporting counterparts that employ 7 workers on average, and report around $864,000 in average sales.

In the past, Asia-Pacific countries relied on foreign aid from the U.S. government and gifts from U.S.-based family members for financial support. Today, Asia-Pacific economies collectively represent one of the strongest economic blocs in the world.

These countries no longer rely as much on the U.S. to build their economies, but they will benefit from strong middle-class economic growth in the United States—and trade helps accomplish that goal.  In 2014, total bilateral trade between the U.S. and its partners in the Asia-Pacific was $1.7 trillion – an increase of 54 percent from $1.1 trillion in 2009.

Research suggests that trade decreases poverty by raising wages around the world and that by expanding U.S. market access, higher-quality employment in less-developed countries is promoted as workers shift from informal to formal employment. This shift in employment status and quality of work creates new opportunities for workers; raises labor standards and incomes abroad, helping lift families and communities out of poverty.

The Asia-Pacific region is home to nearly 60 percent of global gross domestic product and the world’s fastest growing economies; half of the world’s population, and an emerging middle class that is eager for American products and services. The Asian American business community is poised to leverage its strengths, capture these markets, and continue the momentum of economic growth here in the United States.

Our recent trade agreements with countries like South Korea require them to reform their laws and practices so that they are consistent with the International Labor Organization’s fundamental labor rights. They include protections from child and forced labor, as well as employment discrimination. We are looking to establish even stronger standards when it comes to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the 11-nation trade agreement that would include several Asia-Pacific countries: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Admission into TPP will require countries to commit to fundamental labor rights as well as the world’s highest environmental standards that will be fully enforceable. By committing several nations to the same standards, individual nations are prevented from gaining an unfair competitive advantage. Trade agreements are not only helping companies here in the United States, they are improving the conditions of workers, businesses, and economies of the countries where many Asian American extended families still live.

To get trade deals done, particularly TPP, Congress must pass Trade Promotion Authority legislation to give the President and our trade negotiators the ability to advocate on behalf of Asian American businesses and workers, and ensure that free and fair trade agreements level the playing field.

Like America itself, the Asian American community draws strength from the diversity of its many distinct cultures.  The entrepreneurial spirit of the community is a strong tradition. The Asian American community and our economic partners in the Asia-Pacific bloc have the opportunity to continue on a prosperous path with the passage of trade promotion legislation.  It is good for business on both sides of the ocean.

Albert Shen

Albert K. Shen is the National Deputy Director of the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) at the U.S. Department of Commerce.  In this role, Mr. Shen serves as the principal advisor to the MBDA National Director and assists in managing the day-to-day activities of the Agency.  He leads strategic initiatives for MBDA on international exporting, access to capital, and legislative/intergovernmental policy for minority business growth.

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