The concept that trade contributes to American prosperity would seem unassailable. But in the current presidential campaign, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have attacked trade agreements as harmful to U.S. workers.
That sentiment seems to be widespread among a significant share of the electorate. Many disgruntled American voters now see the free exchange of goods among nations as a one-way street enabling foreign interests to flood our shores with cheap consumer products at the expense of domestic interests.
No question, many industries — particularly in manufacturing — have suffered thanks to competition from imports. But, in fact, those who oppose engaging with the rest of the world when it comes to commerce ignore the reality that many American companies prosper precisely because they have access to foreign markets.
And Las Vegas offers proof.
A report from the U.S. Department of Commerce released this month found that Las Vegas companies exported a record $2.9 billion in goods during 2015. That’s up 16.2 percent from the previous year. Andrew Edlefsen, Las Vegas director of the U.S. Commercial Service, told the Review-Journal that construction and medical equipment account for a chunk of the exports.
Keep in mind that the export figure doesn’t take into account the money generated locally by foreign tourists traveling to Southern Nevada to enjoy the region’s many amenities.
The increase in exports from Southern Nevada doesn’t happen in an economic vacuum. Consider Sable Systems International in North Las Vegas. The company, which employs more than 30 people, makes systems that measure the metabolism of rats and mice used in research laboratories. About half its sales come from overseas orders and Sable ships to 33 countries.
“We have gotten huge orders from Europe,” Robbin Turner, the firm’s CEO, told the Review-Journal. “Europe has been big, China is following.”
This consensual commerce allows Sable Systems International — and other local outfits — to expand their operations, hire more people and shore up the Southern Nevada tax base. Erecting trade barriers to impede the company’s ability to do business abroad would undermine those contributions and destroy local jobs.
“Exports now support more than 6 million manufacturing jobs across the country,” wrote Jay Timmons and Chad Moutray of the National Association of Manufacturers in Newsweek last year, “as well as higher-paying jobs for an increasingly educated and diverse work-force.”
Bottom line: Opening foreign markets to American companies and products creates domestic jobs and help create sustained economic growth. Negotiating favorable trade deals certainly makes sense, but policies that ignore the advantages of international commerce threaten the country’s long-term prosperity.