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Utah to benefit from international trade partnerships awaiting federal approval

President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, in Washington.
President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, in Washington.
Mandel Ngan, Associated Press

In the early 2000s while I was working in the District of Columbia, people often asked me what it was like to work on Capitol Hill. My standard response was “apply the 80/20 rule” — meaning 80 percent of the time members of Congress and their staff worked across party lines to accomplish common goals and 20 percent of the time we would argue and fight.

A decade later, with partisanship and gridlock seemingly ever on the rise, my friends and former colleagues in the District tell me that the same 80/20 rule applies, except that these days the fighting is the 80 percent.

Beyond the gridlock and bickering, however, there is a glimmer of hope for increased cooperation and bipartisanship in the area of free trade, as highlighted in the president’s State of the Union speech and the response from the Republican-controlled Congress.

Administration officials and congressional staff have worked the past several years on two important trade agreements. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TTP, includes 11 countries in the Asia-Pacific Region. With a combined population of 482 million, these countries represent some of the world's most promising and expanding markets. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or T-TIP, includes countries in the European Union and will strengthen our ties and solidify trade relationships with some of our nation’s strongest and most longtime trading partners.

The next step in finalizing these two trade agreements is for Congress to give the president Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), something the previously Democrat-controlled Senate was unwilling to do. With Republicans now in control of the Senate, the president is asking for the authority to finalize the trade agreements, which he reiterated in his State of the Union speech last week. And with the leadership of Utah's Sen. Orrin Hatch, who has led the effort to open these markets for several years, the Senate is in a position to act quickly to grant the president’s request.

Strengthening trade relationships and reducing trade barriers will help the U.S. economy. Countries included in the two proposed trade agreements account for 64 percent of global GDP. Providing opportunities to companies within the vast TTP/T-TIP geographic area to produce and perform according to their competitive advantages will lead to greater economic prosperity overall.

The trade agreements will also benefit Utah’s economy. Finalizing TPP means reduced trade barriers, firmer protection of intellectual property and increased transparency and certainty for Utah companies looking to increase the state’s annual average of $4 billion in goods already exported to the Asia-Pacific region. Finalizing T-TIP will strengthen ties with and reduce trade barriers to Utah’s largest export market, thereby providing opportunities for even more Utah companies to begin exporting to countries in the European Union.

There is no better time to show the world that our country can be unified, with a Democratic White House and Republican Congress working together on what should be the top priority — strengthening the national economy. Completing these two massive deals will lead to new trade opportunities for all the countries involved and will positively impact those at the state level as new companies enter the international marketplace and additional jobs are created. Hopefully, cooperation to strengthen U.S. economic prosperity through trade will serve as a model for future bipartisan successes in other areas.

As the state that has led the nation in export growth the past several years and with 22 percent of our jobs tied to international business, Utah has the most to gain from strengthening trade relations and reducing trade barriers. A large part of Utah’s economic success has been the message and the corollary effort from our business leaders and elected officials showing that “Utah is open for business.” Timely approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership will provide the opportunity for the nation to follow Utah’s lead by signaling to the world "the U.S. is open for business” too.

Derek B. Miller is the president & CEO of the World Trade Center Utah. Previously he was chief of staff to Gov. Gary Herbert and managing director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development.