Posted at 10:03 AM
Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker received the Washington International Trade Association’s Global Leadership Award and delivered remarks at the organization’s 2016 Annual Dinner. Secretary Pritzker was recognized for her significant contributions to the advancement and facilitation of international trade.
Speaking before an audience of more than 500 trade professionals from across the Washington region, Secretary Pritzker highlighted trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a means to shape the forces of globalization, automation, and digitization to the benefit of American workers. She also discussed the critical need for investments that will prepare America's workforce for the disruptions caused by these forces.
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Thank you, Steve, for the kind introduction. I also want to thank the Washington International Trade Association and the Washington International Trade Foundation for your leadership in opening the world’s markets to American companies. I am truly honored to receive this award. I’m told this event is affectionately known as the “trade prom.” When I went to my high school prom, “dispute settlements” meant negotiating my curfew with my mother and navigating the advances of a creepy adolescent boy.
In all seriousness, we come together at a tipping point for trade. The world is more connected than ever. Supply chains are more integrated than ever. Customers are more accessible than ever. Yet people are more afraid of trade, more anxious about the future, and more frustrated with government than ever. We cannot ignore that one of the world’s largest economies has just voted to sever ties with its most important trading partner. When I was in Europe earlier this week, I heard over and over that no one thinks the outcome of that decision will be good for the average Brit or good for greater Europe. And here at home, we are increasingly fighting against a view that suggests that we pull up the drawbridge and cut ourselves off from the world.
For the United States, now is the time to secure our influence in markets around the world and ensure our businesses can compete. American leadership and prosperity are at stake. Yet, the rhetoric around trade and around TPP has never been more heated. Why?
The anxiety over opening America’s shores to more trade stems from a simple fact: While our economy continues to grow, the gains are not felt evenly or immediately. While our economy continues to add jobs, inequality is expanding, and wages are not growing fast enough. Many are quick to blame this on trade. But as all of you in this room know, underlying some of this pain are three technology-driven forces that are charging ahead whether we accept them, whether we like them, or whether we fight them: globalization, automation, and digitization.
These forces are disrupting our communities, our workers, and our businesses. Many understandably are feeling left behind. In a world where the very nature of work is changing every day, blocking a trade agreement or exiting a free trade area creates a false sense of control and will ultimately hurt our prosperity and undermine our competitiveness.
As the President said recently – and I quote – “we can’t put technology back in a box any more than we can cut ourselves off from the global supply chain.” We cannot deny that globalization is creating new competition for our companies and our people. That automation is changing the very nature of work. That digitization is altering how we all use and manage information. We must acknowledge that technology is creating not only opportunities but challenges for our citizens.
At the same time, the existence of these forces does not mean we should turn our back on trade or new trade pacts. In fact, these are arguments for negotiating better trade agreements on the front end and supporting our workers better on the back end. That is precisely what we have done with the Trans Pacific Partnership: negotiated a higher standard agreement that strengthens our competitive advantage in a world where competition is growing as never before. But having the agreement enter into force cannot be the end of the story. We have a responsibility to our workers and our communities that continues long after we sign on the dotted line. We must complete a modern compact to address these dislocations.
That is why, under President Obama’s leadership, our Administration has invested heavily in how we prepare our children and our workers for the high-tech, high wage jobs of tomorrow. Our government is making college more affordable, job training more available, and funding for workforce development more sensible. We are working across the Administration to build partnerships between business, education, labor, and social services to better serve our population.
At the Department of Commerce, we have made job-driven training a priority for the very first time. Through our “Skills for Business” agenda, we are bringing employers and job creators to the table to define precisely what they are looking for in prospective employees. We are working with educators and trainers to ensure they provide the skills demanded. And we are joining forces with labor and social service organizations to strengthen the safety net for our workers.
From Buffalo to Houston to Dalton, Georgia, we are seeing better alignment of business demand with talent development programs, all to the benefit of our people and their employers. As a result, these communities are ahead of the pack. And they are better prepared to weather the economic changes that could emerge as barriers to trade are removed.
If we are genuinely going to shift people’s attitudes about trade, we must scale nationally the type of job-driven, community investment that is starting to work locally. But that demands political will. If we are truly pro-trade, we must support investments in 21st century infrastructure here at home to remain globally competitive. If we are truly pro-trade, we must support the adoption of a modern immigration system to ensure that the best and brightest from around the world are welcome in our country. If we are truly pro-trade, we must update our tax code to incentivize businesses to invest in our labor force and to re-invest here in the United States, creating more and better-paying jobs. And, of course, we need to pass TPP. Because we cannot call ourselves pro-growth while denying American workers and businesses the opportunity to compete and win in our modern, globalized economy.
There is no denying that many people feel that we are cutting new trade deals to benefit the elite – rather than to create opportunities and prosperity for them and their families. If we are going to shift attitudes around the country, we – the people in this room tonight – need to do a better job of answering three fundamental questions that have animated the debate around trade for decades: How does trade benefit communities across our country? How do we ensure that the average American understands the benefits of trade in their lives and in their wallets? In a time when technology is changing the very nature of work, how do we adapt and build bridges to new opportunities for our workers? Our ability to effectively address those questions will determine whether we remain competitive in the 21st century global economy.
This is a time for American leadership. No matter our politics, we as Americans cannot let our differences – our fear of change, our anxiety over the future – stop us from engaging with the world. Now is the time to answer the difficult questions and take the bold steps needed to address the real frustrations felt by too many of our citizens. All of us in this room need to be part of the solution. Thank you again for this tremendous honor.