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Seizing the Opportunity in the Asia Pacific — An On the Ground Perspective | Commentary

By Jackson Cox Delegates from the Asia Pacific Council of American Chambers of Commerce flew to Washington, D.C., in late June to provide policymakers with the unique perspective of American businessmen and women living and working abroad in the Asia Pacific. Representing the front lines of commercial diplomacy, APCAC delegates came from as far away as Mongolia, Australia, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and Singapore to describe the enormous opportunities for U.S. exporters in the region. We also warned lawmakers and Administration officials about the risks of America ceding its economic leadership in a region that will soon encompass 40 percent of the world’s GDP and nearly two-thirds of middle class spending by 2030.  

Our trip to Washington coincided with the intense debate over U.S. trade policy including the future of the Export-Import Bank and the decision to provide President Obama with Trade Promotion Authority. Over the course of some 60 meetings, we heard similar concerns expressed from both parties that ranged from the transparency of the negotiating process to specific provisions addressing labor, environmental and currency issues, among others, in the final Trans Pacific Partnership agreement. Of even more concern, we heard firsthand from members of Congress that many of their constituents believe expanded trade will cause more harm than good for American workers. Discussing these issues, among others, our message was simple — TPP is a 21st century free trade agreement that will boost American exports and create high paying jobs while cementing U.S. influence in the Asia Pacific for decades to come.  

During our meetings, we shared examples of how American businesses, tethered to the partisan disagreements in Washington, D.C., and burdened by excessive taxation and over regulation, are being outpaced by their foreign rivals. The window of opportunity is quickly closing as other countries move to fill the void left by inaction on behalf of the United States — a fact evidenced by the recent formation of the Asian Infrastructure Bank, which the United States is not a member of, and the conclusion of several bilateral agreements which oftentimes increase barriers for U.S. exporters. Now is the time for action, and it is critical for policymakers to act swiftly and decisively to level the competitive playing field by empowering American businesses and workers with the tools they need to penetrate markets and deliver U.S. produced goods and services.  

While APCAC certainly applauds Congress for passing TPA legislation, there is much more to be done. Congress must act immediately to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank’s charter the lapsing of which promises to send a shockwave down the entire supply chain from businesses on the ground in the Asia-Pacific to domestic producers and manufacturers reliant on exports to foreign markets. Additionally, Congress must pursue common-sense tax reform designed to help U.S. workers and businesses compete overseas and win market share for American companies. This includes overhauling the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, the direct effect of which has been to deny many American expats access to financial services institutions much less basic banking services, and preserving the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (Sec. 911).  

Of greater importance, the administration must act swiftly to conclude ongoing TPP negotiations and give Congress enough time to review and pass the agreement. TPP is a 21st century free trade agreement that will simultaneously advance U.S. economic and geopolitical interests in the Asia Pacific by tearing down “beyond the border” barriers to free trade and unleashing the forces of American commerce, values and ingenuity. As we have seen with the recent TPA vote, it is incumbent on the administration to drive the issue and work directly and in consultation with Congress. In addition, businesses and organizations like APCAC can no longer sit on the sidelines as a TPP vote approaches. Rather, it is imperative we stand at the forefront of the debate and provide the persuasive foundation for final passage of the agreement.  

APCAC members are among the strongest envoys the United States has on the ground in the Asia-Pacific for promoting U.S. exports. We implore decision-makers in Washington, D.C., to work together in order to seize the enormous opportunities in the Asia Pacific region and stimulate growth in the American economy.  

Jackson Cox is chairman of The Asia Pacific Council of American Chambers of Commerce.

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