By TOM DONOHUE
WASHINGTON -- The United States must make job creation its number one priority. Unemployment is 9.9 percent, and millions more have stopped looking for work or are underemployed.
Here's a budget-neutral way to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs: Double American exports over the next five years. With consumers tapped out and the federal government maxed out, where will demand come from? The answer is overseas, where 95% of the world's consumers live.
What's stopping us from exporting more American goods and services? The answer is twofold: political resistance at home and protectionism abroad.
Powerful special interests—including some unions—argue that trade is bad for American workers. Working alongside their congressional allies, these groups are delaying the adoption of critical free trade agreements (FTAs) with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea that would benefit many American workers.
When it comes to trade agreements, America is being locked out and left behind. Canada and the EU are about to clinch their own trade deals with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea, which would put U.S. workers and farmers at a huge disadvantage.
To settle the debate over whether America's trade agreements have been good for the country and our workers, the U.S. Chamber commissioned a study to examine the impact of FTAs covering 14 countries.
We learned that a staggering total of 17.7 million U.S. jobs depend on trade with our FTA partners—5.4 million of which were created by the increase in trade unleashed by the agreements. Incredibly, this explosion of job creation came at no cost to taxpayers.
Of course, the challenges facing U.S. business aren't all homegrown.
The Chamber sees an alarming rise in economic nationalism around the globe. Economic policies are being framed to favor national producers and state-owned enterprises while putting foreign companies at a disadvantage.
China, for instance, is pursuing an "indigenous innovation" strategy that threatens to restrict market access and deny a level playing field for foreign enterprises and investors. While the government has since taken some steps to amend these rules, remaining measures are still causing concern.
This amounts to a lost opportunity to create jobs, lift millions out of poverty, raise the global standard of living, and bring people and nations closer together. The global community -- including the United States -- can and must do better.
For more information, read our study "Opening Markets, Creating Jobs" and our report "The State of World Trade" at www.uschamber.com/trade.
Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The U.S. Chamber's Institute for Legal Reform owns The West Virginia Record.