We have seen small, but directionally important, signs of economic growth lately. In November, the nation’s jobless rate dropped to 8.6 percent, the lowest in almost three years. Employers added 120,000 workers to their payrolls, capping a five-month trend of job creation, while weekly claims for unemployment dropped by nearly 23,000 – a nine-month low.  

At FedEx, we focus more closely on a different statistic: packages. On December 12 we set an all-time FedEx record for daily volume, handling almost 17 million shipments in our global networks, almost double our daily average. We hired some 20,000 seasonal workers to help handle it all. Healthy growth in online shopping this holiday season played a key role.

We anticipate moderate GDP growth in the U.S. in 2012 based on what we see in our package systems and on conversations with our customers. In general, they are cautiously optimistic about the near-term future for the global economy. 

Global is the key word. FedEx serves more than 220 countries and territories. We understand the inextricable link between economic growth and global trade. More than five years ago, we commissioned research on that link, finding a close correlation between economic openness and prosperity. We call this the Access Effect.  

Access is the reason that a California golf apparel business can increase its worldwide sales by almost 19,000 percent in five years with no physical headquarters but a global supply chain. It’s how a small business can grow in Georgia by selling chopsticks to China, Korea, and Japan.

We also understand the concerns some have expressed about the relationship of global trade to American jobs.  But think how much the world has changed since our CEO, Fred Smith, started FedEx in 1973. That was so long ago that our first plane is now in the Smithsonian.  But for many of us, it’s well within memory – a time when nearly half the world’s population lived in economies that were largely closed to global trade.  Many in those economies lived in dire poverty and political tensions with the U.S. were often high.

Today, those economies are much more free. That means more choices from around the world for U.S. consumers, and yes, in many industries, more competition. But it also means more export opportunities for American businesses from fast-growing middle classes in other countries totaling hundreds of millions of people.

Like many companies involved in the global economy, we believe the recent passage of Free Trade Agreements with Panama, Columbia and South Korea will drive job creation and opportunities for American businesses. The U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement alone will boost trade by more than $20 billion annually. And, according to a 2008 U.S. Trade Representative, this could result in up to $173 billion in export trade for America’s small- and medium-sized businesses.  

In the first Star Wars film, the “Force” is defined as an energy field that “binds the galaxy together.” While FedEx doesn’t offer galactic service (yet), we know that fair global trade is a positive energy force in our own world.  It will keep bringing new opportunities as we remove barriers and see new markets open to American businesses of all sizes.

Glenn is executive vice president of Market Development and Corporate Communications for FedEx Corp.  He is a member of the five-person Executive Committee, responsible for planning and executing the corporation’s strategic business activities.