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Seize the moment

A trans-Pacific trade pact will create U.S. jobs and unleash commerce, with Hawaii at the center

By Thomas J. Donohue

LAST UPDATED: 12:43 p.m. HST, Nov 9, 2011

As 21 world leaders, 20,000 delegates and 2,000 journalists descend upon Honolulu this week for the APEC Leaders Meeting, the U.S. business community is urging participants to pursue a bold and aggressive trade agenda for the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.

Increased trade can be an antidote to our weak economy and the answer to doubts about American economic leadership at home and abroad.

It can create hundreds of thousands of badly needed jobs without a single tax increase — and without adding a dime to the deficit.

It can lower barriers to American goods and services around the world, boosting our exports and creating jobs.

And it can help attract foreign investment as well as travelers, tourists and conventions, creating even more jobs in Hawaii and across the nation.

At the top of our agenda is a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, which would expand access to American goods and services in the most dynamic region of the world. Nine nations, including the United States, are now participating in the talks. Other significant economies such as Japan and Canada could join.

A comprehensive agreement to lower trade barriers on fair and equal terms has the potential to unleash an explosion of job-creating commerce across the Pacific — with Hawaii at the center.

We applaud TPP negotiators for their willingness to go beyond the standard objective of trade negotiations, which is simply to reduce tariffs. An agreement that ensures global supply chains operate more predictably and efficiently, rules and regulations are compatible, intellectual property is protected, and state-owned enterprises compete fairly is the kind of bold agenda that could positively define the rules of commercial engagement throughout the region.

We must also seize additional opportunities beyond the Asia-Pacific. The United States should seek a series of specific agreements with our largest trading partner, the European Union, on eliminating tariffs on goods, regulatory compatibility, and deals on investment, services, and procurement.

In view of the stalled Doha Round of world trade talks, the World Trade Organization should assemble a "coalition of the willing" to negotiate a new agreement that would liberalize trade in services — the most rapidly growing sector of the global economy.

The United States should consider bilateral free trade agreements with significant and emerging economies such as Brazil, Egypt and India. To do so successfully, the president must be granted trade promotion authority, which means trade agreements could not be picked apart by 535 representatives and senators in Washington, but rather be subject to their up or down votes.

Foreign investment in the United States already sustains 5 million American jobs. With parts of the world economy in turmoil, now is a great time to attract more of this job-creating capital to our shores.

And we need to better promote America as a great travel destination, laying out the welcome mat and making travel here more convenient and desirable without compromising security.

Expanding trade, attracting more foreign investment and drawing more tourists to our shores won't solve all our problems. But it's a win-win-win for Hawaii and our country. It's a win for jobs. It's a win for our businesses — large and small. And it's a win for government —because trade, investment and tourism pumps more money into public coffers and doesn't add to the deficit.

After five years of unnecessary delays, Congress and the president have finally enacted trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. Incredibly, some are suggesting we must now take another "time out" on trade until after the 2012 election. This would be a huge mistake. The rest of the world is racing ahead and enacting deals with each other. Some 25 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed and they can't afford to wait for jobs.

Hawaii's moment in the sun is right here, right now with APEC. So is America's. Let's seize the moment.

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