First-hand benefits of free trade

As Washington approaches job creation with singular focus this week, they’d do well to begin by passing three stalled trade agreements that are at the heart of U.S. economic growth and employment.

Trade and its role in creating global opportunity and prosperity isn’t just a timely topic for Washington. It will be the subject of much discussion this week at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in San Francisco. Global leaders in government and private industry will focus their discussions on promoting regional economic integration, developing green growth throughout member economies and encouraging regional cooperation and convergence.


The bottom line: Increased trade will improve our overall economic health.

At FedEx we’ve seen first-hand the benefits of U.S. trade agreements already in place. After implementation, two-way trade volume increases, and we expand our operations and services to meet that demand. The result: We now have more than 290,000 team members worldwide and operate in more than 220 countries and territories. That’s significant because it enables us to continue growing our U.S. operations and workforce — at a time of growing unemployment and an ailing economy. 

This is why it is so critically important for the South Korea, Panama and Colombia free-trade agreements to pass. With almost 14 million Americans out of work we can no longer allow these agreements to languish as other regions continue to beat us to the market. It’s been two-and-a-half months since the European Union began trading with South Korea and almost one month since Canada signed an agreement with Colombia. If the United States doesn’t follow suit and lower tariffs for American goods and services, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates we may lose nearly 400,000 jobs and $40 billion in export sales in these two countries alone.

As significant as those numbers seem in the aggregate, their downstream effects are even greater. We’re talking about real jobs, real revenue and real relief for tens of thousands of Americans — including small-business owners, farmers and service providers.

One of our small-business clients in California was able to increase sales almost 19,000 percent in five years and create a supply chain that wraps around the world with no physical headquarters and only 32 employees. This was possible due to its imagination and entrepreneurial spirit, and also because of access to markets around the globe and an ability to get its products to its customers. Free trade creates growth.

FedEx regularly ships high-tech products, pharmaceuticals, auto parts, medical equipment and many other goods to Korea, Panama and Colombia. Passing bilateral FTAs will ease market barriers and provide significant opportunities for American businesses that are looking to grow and reach new customers. In fact, according to a 2008 estimate from the U.S. Trade Representative, America’s small- and medium-sized enterprises could export up to $173 billion to the Asia-Pacific region.

These trade agreements are about jobs, prosperity and another popular Washington buzzword: sustainability. 

A FedEx-sponsored study at Yale University found that expanded trade and pro-trade policies appear to improve overall environmental health. Knowing that, we must act as responsible stewards of the environment as we expand our global reach.

Last year’s launch of the first Boeing 777F Shanghai-to-Memphis route — and the subsequent introduction of six additional routes — are a case in point. The introduction of the 777F reduces our fuel consumption and emissions by almost 20 percent. It also has an extended range allowing us to extend our nightly pickup times by two hours. This allows manufacturers to lengthen their production days, which means greater productivity.

We’re also making improvements to our ground fleet. To do this, we take the holistic approach, using the right vehicle for the mission, on the right route. We’re seeing dramatic results. In Japan, we have introduced eco-driving, which takes a new approach by challenging our drivers to learn and adopt new habits that improve their fuel efficiency and reduce emissions. Since the program began, fuel efficiency has improved by almost 15 percent.

New technologies and new solutions can only be fostered within the right policy environment. And that begins with the right trade agreements.

That’s why, as a member of the APEC Host Committee, I will share these examples with my colleagues and I will call on them to push Congress and the administration to take action and get these deals passed. Every day is an opportunity lost and, if President Obama wants to reach his goal of doubling U.S. exports by 2014, he should heed our call.

Ducker is the vice chairman of the APEC 2011 USA Host Committee, a former U.S. APEC Business Advisory Council member, and COO of FedEx and president of its International division.