Free trade has been a pillar of U.S. foreign and economic policy for most of the last century. Since 1944, successive U.S. Administrations have pursued a series of ambitious efforts to reduce barriers to international trade. The U.S. had a central role in the creation of international institutions to support global economics and free trade, most particularly the International Monetary Fund, the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade and the World Trade Organizations.
The United States also has pursued freer trade through a large number of bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) that lower barriers and improve the movement of goods, services and funds. At present, the United States is party to 14 FTAs in force with 20 countries. The best known of these is the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada.
The United States is planning two even larger FTAs. One, the Trans –Pacific Free Trade Agreement currently includes Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, Mexico, Canada and Japan. Another, still in an early stage, would create an FTA across the Atlantic, between the European Union and the United States.
The value of international trade to the U.S. economy cannot be underestimated. Just between the United States and the European Union, the daily exchange of goods and services amounts to some $2.7 billion. Overall, the U.S. exported or imported more than $4 trillion dollars worth of goods and services in 2012. As globalization continues and international trade expands and becomes easier, its importance to the U.S economy will only grow. The rapid expansion of oil and gas drilling in this country will inevitably lead to expanded overseas sales of these commodities even as U.S. imports of petroleum declines.
There used to be a saying in international affairs that the flag follows trade. It is even more accurate today. Our dependence on foreign sources of both raw materials and finished goods is now such that this country cannot afford to be cut off from overseas markets. Even the temporary interdiction of an important sea lane could cost the United States billions of dollars in lost commerce. There are many critical components of our modern economy and way of life such as integrated circuits that are largely produced overseas. The loss of such production through war or terrorism could have a serious effect on the U.S. economy.
For this reason, the U.S. needs a military that is both forward deployed and capable of projecting significant military power globally. When commentators wonder about the value of large nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, a fleet of amphibious landing ships, long-range bombers, aerial refueling tankers, nuclear attack submarines and long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles, this is the reason. But this is also the reason for maintaining a significant and modern capability to engage in high-intensity conventional warfare. This nation must also be able to intervene overseas in the defense of our vital interests one of which is the security of the world’s sea and air lanes and another is access to friends, allies and trading partners. Free trade requires a sturdy bodyguard.
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