Commentary Type

"American Trade Leadership: What is at Stake"

Robert B. Zoellick (US Trade Representative)

Speech before the Institute for International Economics Washington, DC


Like the best of institutions – public or private – the Institute for International Economics is guided by core values. The work at IIE draws from a powerful idea: that an open international economy will spur energies and creativity that will better the condition of people around the world, individually and collectively.

I have always felt that openness is America's trump card – openness to goods, to services, to capital, to people, and to ideas. Openness is what keeps the United States competitive, fresh, and dynamic. It ensures that America can draw on the best that the world has to offer.

America has also led the way in opening trade, societies, and minds around the world. From its founding, America has been an idea as well as a country.

On September 11, America, its open society, and its ideas came under attack by a malevolence that craves our panic, retreat, and abdication of global leadership. This grave test of a generation’s fiber is an assault on more than buildings and innocent people – it is a strike against liberty itself.

As President Bush declared last Thursday to the Congress, “This is civilization’s fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom.”

Our enemy’s selection of targets – the White House, the Pentagon, and the World Trade Towers – recognizes that America’s might and light emanate from our political, security, and economic vitality. Our counteroffensive must advance U.S. leadership across all these fronts. So in addition to military actions we must thrust forward the values that define us against our adversary: openness, peaceful exchange, democracy, the rule of law, compassion, and tolerance. This is, as Chairman Greenspan said to me, a struggle between the producers and the destroyers; between those striving day in and day out to build better lives for their families and those who only know destruction, tearing down what others have created. On September 11, over 60 countries lost people to the hate of the destroyers.

Earlier enemies learned that America is the arsenal of democracy; today’s enemies will learn that America is the economic engine for freedom, opportunity, and development. Economic strength – at home and abroad – is the foundation of America’s hard and soft power. To that end, U.S. leadership in promoting the international economic and trading system is vital. Trade is about more than economic efficiency. It promotes the values at the heart of this protracted struggle.

Prior Americans recognized the role of economic ideas in overcoming international adversity. Congress granted Franklin D. Roosevelt the authority to employ free trade as a cure for the protectionism of the Great Depression and then to help Harry Truman revive a devastated world. Throughout the Cold War, Congress empowered Presidents with trade negotiating authority to open markets, promote private enterprise, and spur liberty around the world – complementing U.S. alliances and strengthening our nation.

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