National Press Club

U.S. Chamber president calls for quick action to create jobs

May 14, 2010 | By Robert Webb |

captions in here

Congress and the administration should act quickly to approve free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue said at a Press Club Luncheon May 14.

He spoke on the eve of his trip to China where he said he would have frank discussions with leaders in Beijing and Shanghai.

With a tone of urgency, Donahue summoned the nation's leaders to act quickly to approve the three FTAs that he said are essential to create more trade and help reduce unemployment.

"The unemployment rate is 9.9%," he said. "It soars to beyond 17% when you count those who have stopped looking for work and the under-employed. We have lost roughly 8 million jobs in the last two years. By the U.S. Chamber's estimate, we will need to create 20 million jobs in the next decade to replace those lost during the recession and to keep up with a growing population."

He painted a picture of a U.S. economy increasingly dependent on foreign trade to ensure enough jobs.

"Last September, the Chamber set a national goal of doubling U.S. exports in the next five years, and then doubling them again. If we succeed, this would put us well along the path of creating those 20 million jobs," he said.

While countries globally "raise protectionist barriers to tilt the playing field to their advantage, favor domestic industries and keep markets closed," he said it would be wrong for the U.S. to retaliate.

Donahue said he fails "to see how punishing our own consumers will help families or create new jobs. These measures would do nothing to expand our own sales abroad."

He said his approach would be "one that opens markets and expands trade and investment, not one that closes markets and cedes the global marketplace to our competitors."

Thus, he said, the need to ratify those three pending trade agreements and negotiate others.

"According to the WTO (World Trade Organization), there are 262 free trade agreements in force around the globe today, but the United States has just 11 FTAs covering 17 countries," he said.

"America is party to only one of more than 100 negotiations of bilateral and regional trade agreements. We are also far behind in the race to enact bilateral investment treaties."

He partly blamed labor unions for the lag.

"It is especially inexcusable for Congress and the administration to be sitting on three excellent FTAs - with Colombia, Panama and South Korea," Donahue said.

He said a Chamber study showed the U.S. could lose "more than 380,000 jobs and $40 billion in lost export sales if it failed to implement the Colombia and South Korea agreements while the EU and Canada went ahead with theirs."

He noted how President Uribe and the people of Colombia are "good friends and critical regional allies who have courageously -- and at great cost -- stood up to the drug lords in order to reclaim their country. And the United States gives them the back of the hand? It's unconscionable."

Donahue also said the U.S. must "work with allies around the globe to combat global nationalism. We must also resist economic nationalism at home."

He also branded as "uncompetitive" the nation's corporate tax system.

"Yet every day, we hear about some new punitive tax proposal that would put key industries at a disadvantage globally -- banks, insurers, energy companies and firms that defer income tax on profits earned abroad ... pick your target."

During the question-answer period, he said the Greek and other economic distress in the European Union would affect not only trade but also geopolitics. He blamed problems there partly on the social compact in EU countries. At the same time, he warned that lengthening lifespans in the U.S. will intensify this country's problems with entitlements.

Donahue, representing the nation's largest business organization with 300,000 members, applauded President Obama's creation of a commission to deal with deficits.