6 things the Super Bowl can teach us about trade
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Americans will huddle Sunday evening around the TV as they take in the 51st Super Bowl. As we watch this annual matchup to determine the best professional football team, we might also take a moment to consider what this event has in common with international trade.

That's right — international trade.

1. Everyone is included.

Let's start with the fact that this event — as one of the most watched sporting events annually — will touch virtually everybody in the country, bringing us together for a few hours.

Likewise, trade also affects every American. Whether it's the guacamole we are snacking on, the clothes and shoes we are wearing, or the smartphones we are using to watch and share our experiences, we are surrounded by the benefits of trade every day.

2. It's more than just a game.

During the Super Bowl, it’s the action that takes place on the field that allows the game to occur. But for many of us, the action outside of the game is just as important.

Whether it’s the off-the-field drama, the halftime show or the memorable TV commercials, the Super Bowl brings more to its viewers than just the 60 minutes of game-time action.

Trade shares this dynamic as well. Viewed narrowly, trade is about clearing goods across borders and shipping products between countries.

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But trade is so much more. It employs tens of millions of U.S. workers in exporting and importing. It provides untold consumer benefits by creating affordable options. And it supports U.S. manufacturing by giving those companies access to global inputs.

 

While maybe not as memorable as a clever FedEx Super Bowl commercial, the package you receive from trade-dependent FedEx workers is no less important.

3. There are different ways to score.

In football, there are lots of ways to score — touchdowns, field goals, safeties.

Similarly, trade presents many ways to rack up points for the team. U.S. exporters are seen as the obvious winners because their jobs are dependent upon foreign market access.

But U.S. importers generate millions American of jobs, too. Trade also scores for consumers, giving them opportunities to buy products they may not otherwise be able to enjoy, at prices they may not otherwise be able to afford.

4. Teamwork is essential.

Those scores are only possible because football teams actually are made up of specialized units and positions that practice and perform specific jobs, working together.

And this extends to the front office, the coaching staff and even the owner's box. We often hear about how a football team lost a game because the "offense or defense didn't show up," the "quarterback was no good" or the owner micromanaged some element. Even though one player actually gets the ball across the goal line, a lot of people help make sure the football gets to the end zone.

Specialized positions are critical in the trade world, as well. U.S. negotiators help create good rules, companies make quality products that they sell across borders, customs brokers and agents make sure the legitimate trade clears borders, and truckers and sailors haul the goods all over the planet.

If any of these folks "don't show up," a trade transaction can easily be fumbled.

Joe Namath, the famed New York Jets quarterback and MVP of the 1969 Super Bowl, said it best; once describing football — which is noted for its fierce competition and unforgiving play — as a "game about sharing."

Trade, which is no less competitive, needs such cooperation to work as well.

5. Speed isn't always the best policy.

In football, things can happen fast — especially in the last two minutes of the game.

But most plays are methodically planned, practiced and executed to avoid the kind of mistakes that the hurried pace before the time expires can provoke. A dramatic desperation pass sometimes results in a game-winning touchdown. But it more often ends up as an incomplete pass or even an interception.

Likewise, trade policies can change overnight. The last two weeks — with the cancellation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and our discussions with Mexico — are a reminder of that.

In times of rapid change, it is important to remember that well-planned and executed plays are important in trade as well. Monday morning quarterbacking can be just as brutal for a missed field goal or a missed export sale.

6. Rules matter, but it's not about the rules.

Football also depends upon properly enforced rules and a level playing field, a metaphor that translates easily to the trade arena.

But those rules are structured to allow the game to take place in a safe, fair and enjoyable manner. Otherwise, play grinds to a halt.

Trade depends on that bias as well. Trade enforcement is important, but so is trade facilitation. If trade rules are enforced with too much of a heavy hand — or seen as the goal, rather than a means to an end — then international commerce stalls, meaning consumer and worker benefits are delayed or lost.

Of course, there is one area where football and trade are markedly different. In football, after all the downs, timeouts and TV commercials, one team emerges victorious.

But in trade, there is no single winner. Likewise, there are no losers, either — except for when we don't get in the game.

As you watch the Super Bowl this weekend, this is a good perspective to remember. Whether you are rooting for the New England Patriots or the Atlanta Falcons, or just looking for an entertaining evening, take a moment to think of all the ways in which trade helps you and the other fans equally enjoy the game.

Stephen Lamar is executive vice president at the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA). He is responsible for the design and execution of AAFA lobbying strategies on a series of issues covering trade, supply chains and brand protection. In these roles, Lamar also advises AAFA member companies on legislation and regulatory policies affecting the clothing and footwear industries.


The views of contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.