By Erik Heilman
Director, Government Affairs
In the coming weeks, Congress has an opportunity to do something very important to enhance and strengthen the global competitiveness of the U.S. forest products industry. Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation has been introduced and needs to be passed soon. TPA is basically a contract between the legislative and executive branches. In it, Congress allows the president to negotiate free trade agreements (FTAs) with other countries under the parameters and rules Congress sets. Then, Congress will vote them up or down. It’s how Congress exercises its authority over the executive branch on trade agreements. Without it, the FTAs and preferential benefits they give U.S. exporters, won’t happen. That leaves us out in the cold because our major international competitors are rapidly negotiating and concluding barrier-reducing trade agreements for their own companies.
International commerce is vital to our industry. In 2014, direct U.S. exports of forest products amounted to $31.9 billion. In addition, the industry benefits from indirect
exports – domestic sales of paper, paperboard and wood packaging materials that are used to package and transport goods exported by other U.S. industries. The more American watermelons, auto parts, toys, and beauty products that are sold overseas, the more we benefit. And with over 95 percent of the world’s population living outside of the U.S., international trade and trade agreements that remove barriers to trade are critical to a strong consumer-driven manufacturing industry like ours. That’s what trade agreements give us: they help open new markets and break down foreign trade barriers.
Currently, the U.S. is pushing to finalize trade agreements with a group of Asia-Pacific nations and with the European Union. Successful conclusion of these negotiations will help to increase export opportunities for U.S. paper and wood products manufacturers and our customers. But none of this will happen unless Congress approves TPA first.