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Trade preference programs are critical to our economic recovery, especially now

Trade preference programs are critical to our economic recovery, especially now
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More than 7.5 million Americans have been infected with the coronavirus, our president and first lady among them. More than 215,000 people have died from COVID-19, and new infections continue to surge in pockets of the country, including the upper Midwest and parts of the West Coast.   

Millions of Americans have lost their jobs because of the earlier virus-related lockdowns, and that has exposed the cracks in our economy and our government. The last thing we should be doing during an unprecedented public health crisis is creating more barriers for American-based companies to generate economic growth.  

But allowing trade preference programs such as the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) to expire on Dec. 31 will do just that, at a time when American manufacturing is quite literally keeping us all alive. 

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One of several trade preference programs that helps to expand economies in developing countries, GSP provides duty-free tariff treatment to thousands of products that either cannot be sourced domestically or otherwise would put U.S. businesses at a global disadvantage because of higher import duties.  

Notably, the program supports American manufacturing by reducing costs of imported inputs such as chemicals and other equipment needed to manufacture much-needed products to combat the coronavirus — sterilizers for medical equipment, cleansers that consumers use in their homes, hand sanitizer, and even personal protective equipment for first responders — as well as countless other products on which Americans rely in their daily lives. 

Small businesses also count on this program to support good-paying jobs with health care benefits in their communities. These jobs are critical to ensuring that American families remain healthy and are able to make ends meet, and they provide a springboard for future economic growth once a COVID-19 vaccine is approved and becomes readily available.   

Chemical distribution may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about America’s essential infrastructure or the economy, but the industry is a significant economic engine for our country. Chemical distributors account for nearly $20 billion in total economic output and provide more than 80,000 jobs. A lapse in GSP is estimated to cost the American economy more than $55.04 million in the chemical distribution industry alone.  

The job losses and inflated costs to American consumers that I’m talking about are not anecdotal. Congress has allowed the GSP program to lapse before, forcing companies to cut wages and lay off workers, weakening our economy. The stakes are much higher now, and we cannot afford any more job losses. 

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In 2019 alone, GSP saved American companies over $1 billion in import duties, while helping the world’s developing countries increase and diversify their trade with the United States.    

Creating jobs, growing the economy, and helping Americans save money are   fundamental values, which is why the GSP program historically has been lauded with strong bipartisan support in Congress. There’s no reason to let it expire.  

We urge Congress and U.S. Trade Representative Robert LighthizerRobert (Bob) Emmet LighthizerWhiskey, workers and friends caught in the trade dispute crossfire GOP senator warns quick vote on new NAFTA would be 'huge mistake' Pelosi casts doubt on USMCA deal in 2019 MORE to prioritize hard-working Americans and support the reauthorization of this vital program without further delay. An important pillar to American commerce, GSP and other programs like it strengthen our ability to stimulate economies and will help push recovery forward. 

Eric R. Byer is president and CEO of the National Association of Chemical Distributors