In my travels around the United States, I am continually amazed at the lack of understanding over what our $40 billion trade deficit really means. Some businessmen, and even some economists, dismiss it as a relatively unimportant statistical anomaly. While a growing number of people are finally recognizing the importance of international trade, they still remain divided on the methods and goals of a national export policy.
When a company closes its doors because foreign imports have usurped its markets, the employees know all too well the true meaning of trade imbalance. Economists estimate that for every $1 billion worth of goods imported that are not balanced out by exports, as many as 50,000 Americans lose their jobs. We currently export about 7 1/2 percent of our GNP (Gross National Product), the lowest percentage of any industrial nation in the world. Inflation, declining productivity, the strenght of the dollar, and a host of other economic and social woes in this country ar all intimately related to our failure to keep up with the international competition.
Inevitably, calls are heard for protectionist measures which will only serve to ultimately make us even less competitive. A number of more rational proposals have been suggested to promote exports.
The business community feels the government should provide for reindustrialization and for fairer treatment of Americans working overseas in its tax policies. Legislation to establish Japanese-style trading companies in the US has received a great deal of support both in Congress and from the private sector. Many are calling for centralization of govenment export programs in a full-fledged Department of International Trade.
These ideas may be all to the good, but they all have one essential shortcoming. No amount of legislation nor bureaucratic reshuffling will increase our export trade until businessmen themselves decide to make the effort. American manufacturers have been spoiled in some ways by their location in the middle of the world's greatest single marketplace -- the United States. The international market comes second, if it is considered at all. Neither the manufacturers nor any of us can afford that attitude any longer.
The opportunities for increased export are already there. At Sell Overseas America, The Association of American Export, we have found the world market for every type of American product to be nearly insatiable. The "Made in USA" label still has great value overseas for the most simple products as well as the most sophisticated.
I have established a goal for our organization of leading 10,000 American companies into export trade by the end of 1982. Bringing these small and medium-sized companies into the battle for world-markets is the answer to our trade problem.
We know we can do this because the success to date has proven that the market for US goods is wide open. No businessman has to be given special incentives or led by the hand once he sees the opportunities available to him. Doing what the private sector does best, our association simply connects the potential exporter directly with interesed foreign buyers, helps him learn the basic of the export trade process -- and another US company is soon firmly established in the world marketplace.
The descendants of the "Yankee Traders" have fallen into provincial stagnation, but no magic solutions are required to work our way out. There is no reason to believe that our time has passed or that we are somehow doome dto a lesser status in the world. We have the technology and the ability to succeed; all that is needed is the will. Our fate is in our own hands.