U.S. Chamber CEO says ‘If we aren’t leading on trade, we’re falling behind’

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U.S. Chamber CEO says ‘If we aren’t leading on trade, we’re falling behind’


Category: Government

The chief cheerleader for America’s businesses says his group will aggressively back lawmakers who support pro-growth policies in the 2018 elections and fight “the extremes in both parties — the Steve Bannons and the Elizabeth Warrens of the world.”

Thomas Donahue, the longtime CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in his annual address on Wednesday that economic insecurity has given politicians on the left and right an opening to pitch policies that would be harmful to the country.

He urged Washington to resist counterproductive policies in areas such as trade and immigration and find ways to help more Americans benefit from an improved economy. While the “state of American business is strong,” Donohue said, too many Americans have been left behind in an era of “rapid change and disruption.”

Millions lack the necessary job skills to find good-paying jobs, others struggle under “mountains of student loan debt” and still others have succumbed to hopelessness and drug use, he lamented.

“Many Americans are looking for reasons to explain their economic insecurity—for someone or something to blame—like trade, immigration, or technology,” Donahue said.

“All of this has helped fuel the deep political divisions in our country today. Populism is on the rise on both sides,” he said. “Nationalism and socialism are finding new support.”

Donahue is worried political leaders might try to ease the angst with policies that do more harm than good. The generally pro-business Trump administration, for example, has cracked down on legal as well as illegal immigration and threatened to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.

Donahue says terminating NAFTA would be a “grave” mistake.

“If we aren’t leading on trade, we’re falling behind. I’ve been saying that for years, and today, we’re seeing it happen. As the administration has pulled back on trade agreements, governments around the world have rushed forward to fill the void,” he said.

“This is a reminder that we are in a global competition to sell to the 95% of the world’s population that lives outside of the U.S. — and that competition goes on with or without us. So we must strengthen our trading partnerships, not weaken, or worse, abandon them.”

Donahue is also pushing the Trump White House to ease strict immigration rules. One of the biggest threats to the current eight-and-a-half-year-old expansion, he said, is a shortage of skilled workers, especially at a time when baby boomers are retiring and leaving the workforce in droves.

“One of the most common concerns we hear from our members of all sizes and industries, and from across the country, is that they can’t find the qualified workers they need to grow their businesses,” he said.

More must be done to outfit native-born Americans with better job skills, such as apprenticeships and retraining, Donahue said, but “we must reform our immigration system to meet the needs of our economy.”

Donahue said embracing and not fearing technological change is also vital given how much high tech has improved the lives of Americans over the past few decades in areas such as health care, transportation and communications.

“This is especially important as a backlash against major tech companies is gaining strength both at home and abroad, and among consumers and governments alike,” he said. “We must be careful that this ‘techlash’ doesn’t result in broad regulatory overreach that stifles innovation and stops positive advancements in their tracks.”

Donahue highlighted the chamber’s persistent worries about the long-term financial health of the U.S. that he contends is threatened by “unsustainable” growth in entitlement spending — Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

He was skeptical Washington will do anything, though.

“Many recognize that something must be done, “Donahue said. “But the reality is that the bipartisan leadership and national consensus needed for real change doesn’t exist today.”