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Remarks by Ambassador Ron Kirk At University of Maryland Law School

October 3, 2009
University of Maryland Law School
Baltimore, MD

*As Prepared for Delivery*


Thank you all for having me here today. I'd first like to address the students in the audience.

Thirty years ago, I was in your shoes. I was in my last year of law school, ready to graduate and start my legal career. But back then, my options as a lawyer were limited. I didn't know anyone who expected to take their legal career global. And I didn't even contemplate the possibility. In 1979, it was a big deal if a law firm had offices in more than one city. Now it isn't at all strange for firms to have national practices, and many larger firms have offices all over the world.

Cross-border transactions have become common. And with them, cross-border disputes. Today's clients have global needs, and you need to be prepared to speak with authority on global questions. We have lawyers who can referee commercial disputes within America's borders. A new generation of attorneys must sort through the international rules and agreements that govern international trade.

From the very beginning, our country has taken those rules seriously, and for good reason: they govern how American businesses, workers, farmers, and ranchers relate to the world. And from the very beginning, trade played a major role in the American economy. In 1790, the year after the Constitution went into effect, trade was more than one-fifth of GDP.

The nation's brightest thinkers were put to the task of improving America's trading relationships, beginning with the taxes imposed on goods coming into America. As Secretary of the Treasury, one of Alexander Hamilton's first projects was a Report on Manufactures, a treatise for maximizing American resources and nurturing American industry by tweaking the tariff system.

Over time, policymakers came to view trade as a tool of peace as well as prosperity. After the Great Depression and the Second World War, nations around the world were desperate for both. And in the post-war years, America welcomed a new framework for trade, cut tariffs across the board, and ushered in a new era of global commerce.

By the time John F. Kennedy came to the Presidency, the country was ready to put someone to work full-time to encourage our commercial relationships with the rest of the world. That's what I do as United States Trade Representative.

I come to this job as a lawyer, like so many of you are or will be. So I can tell you that the rules matter. For Americans to prosper, those rules have to be fair, enforceable, and enforced. That's the technical aspect of my work.

But I also come to this job as a former mayor and as a father. So I know the importance of bringing jobs into our communities. I certainly understand the urgency of creating opportunities for our children's future - for your future. And I firmly believe that we can bring those jobs and build new opportunities through trade.

Now, I'm going to talk all about how we can do that. But trade doesn't exist in a vacuum, so first I want to take a minute to talk about one of the biggest issues in America today.

In order to maintain our competitive edge, we need to get health care reform done. Reforming the health care system is a trade priority. American businesses and workers can't take full advantage of job-creating trade opportunities as long as our health care system drains their resources.

The bottom line is: no family should lose their home and no business should go broke because someone gets sick in America. As President Obama has said, this isn't a Democratic issue or a Republican issue - it's a moral issue. The time for bickering is over. Now it's time to act. President Obama's health insurance reform plan addresses three simple goals: If you have health insurance, it will give you more security and stability. If you don't have insurance it will give you quality, affordable options. And it will lower the cost of health care for our families, our businesses, and our government. To find out more about President Obama's plan for health care reform, I encourage you to visit healthreform.gov.

At the same time, we can't afford to put the brakes on trade until we get health care reform done. This country needs to embrace the promise of trade now.

Here's why: Ninety-five percent of the world's consumers live outside of America. American workers to prosper, America needs to sell our goods, services, and intellectual property to customers around the world. And when trade enables American businesses to make those sales, they can hire more workers here at home. It's that simple.

In almost every community in America, big or small, rural or urban, a homegrown company is supporting jobs and families by engaging in international commerce. The mission of USTR is to help those companies and their employees do even more.

I'm not here to advocate trade for trade's sake. I'm here to throw a spotlight on the benefits of trade. Trade helps working parents stretch the family budget further. It enables them to purchase clothes for their children more economically, to buy more affordable computers for their kids in college, and to put more varied food on their dinner tables all year long. Trade also drives innovation in green energy and cutting edge technologies that will keep America moving forward. And trade links Americans to allies and opportunities around the world.

It is my job to make sure that our trade policy continues to provide those benefits - a better life, a brighter future, and a more peaceful world - for American workers and businesses.

Now, I can understand how some people believe that America's trade policy has not always lived up to its promise. And a few have even suggested that we should take a step back from trade. But now is not the time to retreat from our goals. If anything, we should set a more ambitious course for the future.

But ambition doesn't have to be reckless. Our trade policy will be responsive to Americans' concerns. USTR is encouraging trade that respects workers and the environment and reflects our values, and we have already embarked on a strong enforcement strategy. In the legal community, we know there are two sides to justice: ensuring that the rules are fair and ensuring that the rules are fairly enforced. We are doing both, now. Because we have to create new jobs for the 21st century and enforcement is a critical component of a job-creating trade policy.

The argument for action could not be clearer: across the country, young people like some of you are ready to start careers and build families. Others of you are ready to climb the ladder and take on more responsibility. Or maybe you are looking for stable work that will carry you through to a secure retirement. Generations of Americans are eager to work, and we are ready to help them.

We will do that by tapping new consumers abroad and ensure that American companies have fair access to foreign markets. We will improve our competitive standing in the world by encouraging the creativity and talent of American workers. We will help U.S. companies set their sights on new and emerging markets. And we will make sure American workers get a fair shake under our current deals and fair treatment in any new agreements.

American entrepreneurs have big dreams, and they're ready to reach any market, anywhere in the world if given the opportunity. But too many of the world's consumers are still walled off by damaging trade barriers - by quota systems in one country or high tariffs in another. I spend my time travelling around the world talking to our trading partners and our potential trading partners because we must tear down those walls. And I spend my time at home talking to our own leaders about how a robust trade policy can create jobs for Americans.

USTR is working on all fronts to open up new avenues for trade because trade can be a pillar of economic recovery. Last year, exports reached a record high of nearly 13 percent of the U.S. production. And though the recession curtailed trade around the world, our exports have once again started to grow. Those exports are a critical component of long-term economic growth.

The global economic crisis has created new challenges for trade. But we have resisted the urge to turn inward, and we will continue to guard against new barriers to trade. Raising trade barriers does no favors to American workers or companies, and it hurts us all in the long-term.

During the Great Depression, knee-jerk protectionism sank the world into deeper suffering and forestalled economic recovery. Country after country walled itself off from trade, each responding to the others' insular restrictions. Soon global trade was at a near standstill. We can't afford to let that happen again. We need a trade policy that opens up opportunities, not one that shuts them down.

Opening new markets around the globe will make it easier for Americans to prosper in the global marketplace. Increasingly, small business owners and first generation companies are making the leap to international commerce, and their employees are reaping the benefits. We think that's a good thing, and we will continue to support their work in every way possible.

USTR is working with the Small Business Association, the Commerce Department, and across the government to ensure that small business owners and entrepreneurs have the tools and the financing they need to succeed in the global marketplace. Through the U.S. Commercial Center and local Export Assistance Centers across the country, this administration is making sure that when America's small business owners have questions, they will get answers.

We must not only encourage American businesses to grow, but also encourage economic growth around the globe. As more jobs are created abroad, more people are able to buy American goods. So development in Asia and Africa does not have to come at the expense of American prosperity. In fact, encouraging that development is the right thing to do for America. And it is certainly the right thing to do for families living in the least developed economies.

Justice for one country doesn't have to come at the expense of another. As President Franklin Roosevelt told the nation in his 1944 State of the Union address, "A basic essential to peace is a decent standard of living for all individual men and women and children in all nations...If the standard of living of any country goes up...that encourages a better standard of living in...countries with whom it trades."

Trade gets to the heart of the fights against of poverty and hunger. By creating relationships and opportunities where none existed before, it can even help prevent violent conflicts. We can help more people share in global prosperity by increasing trading opportunities. And as we do, their countries will have to assume more global responsibility.

Here at home, opportunities are multiplying alongside our challenges. President Obama has set an ambitious agenda for America's future. He has asked us to work together to create jobs, to provide health coverage for all Americans, and to ensure that all our children have the education they need to succeed. To achieve those goals, we must grow the United States economy. And to grow the economy we must build up America's trade capacity.

USTR is working with the President, with Congress, and with agencies across the federal government to make that happen. We want to work with you too. USTR is asking American workers, businesses, farmers, ranchers, entrepreneurs, and our brightest students to be our partners in that work. We need more businesses to ask the question: how can my company reach new markets and global consumers. And we need more American workers to talk to us through our website, ustr.gov, and export.gov.

Just as our laws are best when they result from a thorough debate and thoughtful conversation, our trade policy will benefit from a robust discussion. We welcome your voices and look forward to working with you.