Thank you for that kind introduction, Norm.
I want to thank everyone at the NFTC and its Foundation, including Leslie Griffin, Secretary Gutierrez, and Rufus Yerxa.
I’m so honored to receive this award, especially because it comes from such a respected organization whose work has never been more important. I’ll do my best to live up to the generous compliment you have paid me.
I also want to thank my fellow awardees, Congressman LaHood and Senator Portman, for their leadership.
To re-introduce myself, I’m Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy. I represent an Orlando-area district that is about one-third Democratic, one-third Republican, and one-third independent. I’m bipartisan by nature, which is good, because the nature of my district demands it.
Florida is highly dependent on international trade. Trade supports about 2.4 million jobs in the state. Florida exports over $50 billion dollars a year in goods and over $40 billion dollars a year in services. About 30,000 Florida companies import products.
These data points help explain why I’m proud to call myself a pro-trade Democrat.
To be clear, I don’t support free trade. That’s a common term, but a misnomer—because it suggests unfettered trade or a free-for-all.
I believe trade in goods and services is vital to advancing America’s economic and security interests.
I believe protectionist measures are more likely to result in self-harm than self-preservation.
I support a trading system that is rules-based. These rules should help ensure U.S. companies rise or fall on their own merits, and don’t have to compete on an unfair playing field with foreign-based companies that mistreat workers, pollute the environment, steal intellectual property, or receive excessive government support.
For me, being pro-trade means supporting trade in principle and in practice, pushing for it to be more expansive and more equitable.
As everyone in this room is aware, we stand at a pivotal and precarious moment for global trade. The politics of trade have always been complex, but the era we’ve entered feels unique—and uniquely troubling.
Since the Great Depression, the main goal of U.S. trade policy has been to work with other countries to reduce trade barriers for mutual benefit.
From FDR to Obama, the ship of state has generally sailed in the pro-trade direction, despite being buffeted by protectionist winds and waves.
That progress is now in peril.
The Trump administration unilaterally withdrew the U.S. from TPP, foreclosing a national debate on the economic and strategic ramifications of the proposed deal. This move was received by both parties in Congress with relative silence, which was nearly as disappointing as the President’s decision itself.
The administration has also made unprecedented use of tariffs to respond to a broad spectrum of economic and foreign-policy challenges, punishing American businesses and consumers in the process.
Previous presidents have used tools like Section 232 and Section 301. But no president has used the tariff weapon as often, with as little buy-in from Congress, and with as much disregard for the economic cost to hard-working Americans as this President.
Even though the agricultural, manufacturing, technology, and retail sectors are being hammered by tariffs and counter-tariffs, the response from leaders in these industries has been remarkably quiet.
Their reticence appears to be rooted in fear that speaking up could cause President Trump to lash out via Twitter, like he did at Harley Davidson.
This culture of fear has real consequences. It has obscured the true impact of tariffs and reduced the political pressure on the President and Congress to find a solution.
Signs of an approaching storm are evident not only from what we are seeing, but also from what we are not seeing.
National leaders have not approved a new trade agreement since our bilateral deals with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea in 2011—and, on average, only a quarter of House Democrats voted for those pacts.
The effort to modernize NAFTA has been a painfully slow process for both policy and political reasons, even though most observers agree that USMCA is far better for American workers than the status quo.
In the meantime, while we struggle and stagnate, our key trading partners are pressing forward. The 11 TPP countries signed an agreement without us that puts our importers and exporters at a competitive disadvantage.
The EU signed three large trade deals—with Canada, Japan, and four South American nations.
China is dramatically expanding its economic relationships with other countries. And it’s doing so on its own terms, through agreements that don’t incorporate strong labor or environmental protections.
Every trade deal that evolves without the United States at the table is rewiring the global trade system in a way that does not reflect American values or advance American interests.
Taken together, the evidence suggests the United States is at risk of entering a new yet retrograde period in our trade history—one in which the principle of reciprocity is in retreat, the goal of restriction is on the rise, and the rhetoric of economic nationalism reigns supreme.
All this is happening at a time when our economy is strong and unemployment is low. If our economy weakens and economic anxiety rises, the anti-trade storm on the horizon could become a hurricane.
I believe we’re at an important Article I moment. A look to history reveals that efforts to reduce trade barriers and resist protectionist policies have always depended on presidential leadership. In its absence, pro-trade forces in Congress need to step up.
Specifically, we need to make a clear case for trade, especially to skeptics.
Our case must center on the American worker.
Expanding the export of goods and services supports good jobs and strengthens the middle class.
Workers are also consumers, and imports reduce prices and increase choice for American families.
American firms, workers, and consumers bear a heavy burden when our government imposes tariffs on imports and foreign governments impose retaliatory tariffs on our exports.
Beyond its economic benefits, trade promotes our national security. I used to work at the Department of Defense, and we had an old adage that nations that trade with each other tend not to bomb one another.
Countries that participate in the rules-based global trading system tend to be more prosperous, more peaceful, and less susceptible to terrorism and other forms of extremism.
Deepening our economic ties in Asia, as TPP would have done, serves as a counterweight to China. Strengthening our trading relationship with the EU, as T-TIP would do, undermines Russian efforts to divide us.
Making the case for trade also requires us to push back at the tendency of trade skeptics to blame trade agreements for every ill under the sun.
In reality, the challenges facing segments of the American workforce are more often rooted in technological innovation, shifting consumer demand, the evolving nature of the U.S. economy, and other structural factors.
We should not be silent in the face of such scapegoating. Nor should we be indifferent to the need to help American workers adapt to these complex challenges.
Pro-trade Members of Congress have a public platform, we have oversight authority, and we have the power to legislate. We should use all of these tools.
For my part, I recently began hosting monthly events on important trade issues, where experts brief my congressional colleagues, their staff, and outside stakeholders. I livestream the event so my constituents in central Florida can tune in.
Last month, I organized a briefing on the U.S.-China trade conflict that raised important questions about the effectiveness of the administration’s strategy.
Next week, we will discuss the crisis at the WTO—where the administration, citing a litany of concerns, is blocking the appointment of new judges to its Appellate Body. Five days from now, unless something changes, the Appellate Body will no longer have a quorum to hear cases. This would upend the dispute settlement process at the heart of our global trading system—potentially causing the system itself to unravel. At the very least, it’s likely to lead to more tariff conflicts between nations.
On the legislative front, I’ve introduced a bill to strengthen Congress’s role in decisions to impose tariffs, especially when the president’s stated rationale is “national security.”
Tariffs are the functional equivalent of taxes on U.S. companies and consumers, and the Constitution gives Congress the taxing power. Over time, Congress has delegated much of the power to impose tariffs to the executive branch. Now that the executive branch is abusing this power, Congress ought to reclaim its fair share of authority over these tariff decisions, especially because we are the branch of government closest to the American people harmed by them.
Like many of my fellow Democrats, I believe we must strengthen Trade Adjustment Assistance. This should be done as part of a broader pro-worker agenda—one that includes raising the federal minimum wage, providing paid family leave, reducing the cost of health care, and investing in apprenticeship and other worker training programs.
At the same time, I think we need to seriously consider expanding eligibility for TAA to include workers hurt, not only by trade liberalization, but also by trade restriction. The current rules perpetuate the notion that American workers are victims of the former and not the latter, which is inaccurate.
I will close with this point. While it’s important for pro-trade Members of Congress to use our public platform, conduct oversight, and file legislation, it’s just as important for us to show political courage.
For Republicans, this means speaking out when they believe the President gets it wrong.
For Democrats, it means standing up to forces within our own party whose opposition to trade is reflexive rather than reflective.
We were all elected to put people over partisan politics—and we need to live up to that responsibility.
Thank you, and have a wonderful evening.