Illinois' economy continues to suffer. At 8.6 percent, our state's jobless rate is still hovering well above the national average. Yet amid the gloom and doom it is also worth noting that Illinois remains an economic powerhouse. We would be the 20th largest economy in the
world if we were an independent country, ahead of major countries such as Argentina and South Africa.
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When we think about solutions to our state's economic problems, we should never forget our status as a prominent player in the global economy. Chicago has the necessary size to compete with world-class cities such as New York, London and Paris, and Illinois is home to numerous global companies. We have a competitive edge when it comes to international business.
One of the most effective ways to spur local employment growth is to open up new markets for Illinois companies and to attract foreign companies to invest in our state. International trade is a proven job creator, supporting 38 million jobs in the United States when accounting for both imports and exports. In Illinois, international trade supports 1.6 million jobs, and trade-related employment has doubled during the past two decades. Foreign companies employ almost 250,000 workers in Illinois. Nearly 23,000 Illinois companies have foreign sales, including many small and medium size businesses.
As the fifth-largest exporting state in the nation, Illinois stands to gain substantially from expanded international trade. Companies such as Caterpillar and Deere are already benefiting from U.S. efforts to open up foreign markets. Illinois-made tractors, bulldozers, and other heavy equipment can now often be exported duty-free, making these products more attractive to overseas customers. Machinery is Illinois' biggest export.
Likewise, as foreign tariffs on agricultural products have fallen, Illinois farmers and agricultural companies such as Archer Daniels Midland have substantially expanded their foreign sales. Our state is now the third-largest exporter of agricultural products in the country.
The Obama administration is currently negotiating two major trade agreements that would further boost Illinois exports: The Transpacific Partnership (TPP) with a large group of countries around the Pacific Rim and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the European Union. These two agreements could become President Obama's crowning achievements, boosting the U.S. economy and promoting strong diplomatic relations with Europe and the Pacific Rim for decades to come.
However, in order to bring the ongoing negotiations to a successful conclusion, President Obama needs Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) from Congress. TPA lays out U.S. negotiating objectives and sets up legislative procedures to ensure a vote by Congress on trade agreements. TPA also creates a framework in which business groups, U.S. negotiators and Congress can work together to craft the most advantageous deals.
Every president since Franklin D. Roosevelt -- Republican and Democratic -- has been granted TPA. But in 2007, this power was allowed to lapse and has yet to be renewed. With TPA on hold, U.S. trade negotiators are at a disadvantage in negotiating new trade agreements. That leaves the United States on the sidelines as other countries busily broker separate deals to benefit their own economies.
One of the most important things the Illinois congressional delegation can do for the Illinois economy right now is to grant TPA to President Obama. A failure to support TPA is a failure to believe in Illinois' global potential.
• Henrik Fogh Rasmussen is an international public affairs consultant based in Springfield.