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Secretary's Speech


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Thursday, May 29, 2008


Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez
Remarks to the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce
Cincinnati, Ohio

Thank you for that kind introduction. It’s a pleasure to be in Ohio. I’d like to thank the Chamber for organizing this event. Congressman Chabot I appreciate you being here, you’re a champion for free trade and growing America’s exports.

I also want to thank the local exporters who just shared their stories: Steve Berke with Cincinnati Sub-Zero, Steve Melink of the Melink Corporation and Jason Cooper of Richards Industries. You and your companies are what will keep our economy vibrant and growing in the future.

Today, I want to talk about the economy and exports and what we’re doing to keep America competitive and growing.

GDP numbers released this morning show that our economy actually grew at a 0.9 percent annual rate in the first quarter, up from earlier estimates.

Last fall, when there were signs that growth was beginning to slow, the President, working with Congress, took strong, decisive action. The economic stimulus package gives companies incentives to invest and puts money back into the hands of consumers, including $4.4 billion going to 5.2 million Ohioans.

Checks started going out earlier this month, and already the Treasury Department has sent out 51 million checks totaling $46 billion nationwide.

The $150 billion stimulus is expected to help create a half-million jobs nationwide. Analysts expect that growth will pick up in the second half of the year.

The worst thing we could do for the economy is raise taxes. Yesterday was the five year anniversary of President Bush’s 2003 tax relief.

  • Because of the tax cuts, Americans have already saved $1.3 trillion in taxes through the end of last year.
  • If Congress lets the tax cuts expire, 116 million Americans will get a tax hike of $1,800 each.
  • A typical Ohio family will pay $500 more per child in taxes.
  • And, small businesses will be hit the hardest—75 percent of taxpayers at the top rate are small business owners.
  • Congress needs to make these tax cuts permanent—it’s an immediate step that would strengthen our economy.

And, along with the tax cuts, we need to open more markets for U.S. exporters. Exports are one of the bright spots in our economy. Last year, the United States exported a record $1.6 trillion. That’s more than any other nation.

And, in the first quarter of 2008, exports have grown nearly 18 percent. The companies we’ve just heard from have helped keep our economy “in the black” and growing.

And they aren’t the only ones:

  • Ohio companies exported $42 billion in goods last year, up 42 percent from four years earlier.
  • Cincinnati is one of America’s 20 largest exporting regions.
  • One in five Ohio manufacturing jobs depends on exporting.
  • More than 1,000 companies in the Cincinnati region export.

To help create an environment for Ohio companies to compete we need to lower trade barriers. One of the most effective ways to do that is through Free Trade Agreements.

There are three FTAs now pending in Congress—Colombia, Panama and South Korea. Combined they will give our exporters enhanced access to markets of more than $1 trillion dollars and 100 million consumers.

We know that when American exporters are able to compete on an even playing field they can win. Consider that:

  • Nearly a third of all U.S. crops are exported.
  • 20 percent of manufactured goods are exported.
  • Manufacturing contributes more than 60 percent of U.S. exports. (NAM)
  • Since the passage of the Central America Free Trade Agreement in 2005, we’ve turned a deficit into a surplus.
  • Our FTA partner countries (including pending FTAs) accounted for nearly 46 percent of U.S. goods exports and for nearly 30 percent of our export growth last year.

I’ve just returned from Korea, where I visited with President Lee. At great political risk, he pledged to open up Korea’s market to American beef, with the understanding that it was the last obstacle to a vote on the U.S.-Korea FTA.

Already our trading relationship is approaching $100 billion a year—but we could be doing even better with an FTA.

In fact, studies estimate that we can expect to see an increase in two-way goods trade approaching $20 billion a year with an FTA.

Importantly, passage of this FTA would send a signal that we want to diversify our relationship with an ally in Asia willing to trade with us on an even playing field. On my visit to Korea, I also visited the DMZ between North and South Korea.

It reminded me of the security threats facing our allies in both South Korea and Colombia. Few people have paid a higher price fighting terrorism than Colombians. Since President Uribe was democratically elected, Colombia has taken a different path than many of its neighbors, one of greater social justice, stability, and increasing prosperity.

This is good for Colombia, a close American ally, and it also shows a commitment to reform, social justice and democracy that are key American foreign policy objectives.

And let me address head on the issue of “labor violence” in Colombia. Some have objected to the agreement on the ground that not enough has been done to protect unionists and the environment in Colombia.

The fact is that violence against all Colombians is a great concern of the United States and those who want to see a stable and prosperous Colombia.

We’ve made a significant contribution to Colombia’s efforts to reduce violence, grow their economy and make strides in healthcare and education through Plan Colombia—and it is working.

Violence has been dramatically lowered throughout the country, and the murder of labor leaders dropped by nearly 83 percent since President Uribe took office in 2002—in fact, the murder rate for union members is now lower than the rate for the population as a whole.

Colombia’s success is critical to regional stability. There are those who have a different view of the hemisphere’s future, who want to see Colombia fail and America defeated. They are watching closely to see what Congress will do.

Many of you are interested as well. Colombia’s already one of the most important markets in South America for American exports. Because we lack an FTA, however, U.S. exports continue to be slapped with an average 15 percent tariff.

In fact, in the time since the Colombia FTA was signed, American exports have been subject to more than $1 billion in tariffs. Yet Congress allows Colombian exporters virtually duty-free access to the U.S. market.

We need to pass all three of these agreements now because it will give our economy the kind of long-term competitive edge we need.

Unfortunately Congressional leaders are not moving forward on these agreements for narrow, partisan interests.

We know that protectionism doesn’t protect. However, not all members of Congress agree. They think that taking a timeout on trade and quitting is a sign of global leadership. America is at its best when we are open, leading and engaged.

Leaders in places like Cincinnati know this. The world is getting smaller and more integrated—an environment America has been instrumental in creating and one we’ve benefited tremendously from.

We are at a decisive time in history. Our policies have helped create our high standard of living, low unemployment and an economy increasingly engaged with the global marketplace.

The question now is will we continue to create jobs, grow exports and engage? Or will we slide back into dangerous protectionist policies. The choice is clear—the American people deserve more opportunities to increase their quality of life, more chances to compete and more markets to export their products–not less.

Thank you for your attention, and for all you are doing to keep America strong and our economy growing. I appreciate the opportunity to be here with you today.