Trade pacts make dollars, sense — and can save lives

Kevin Lobo

More than 95 percent of the world's consumers live beyond U.S. borders. free trade agreements, which eliminate tariffs and other barriers that prevent American firms from selling their wares on equal terms with foreign competitors, can grant U.S. businesses access to those billions of potential customers.

This month, Congress will consider legislation that could create thousands of jobs and deliver billions of dollars' worth of potential new revenue to American companies looking to grow and build in the United States and abroad.

Congressional approval of Trade Promotion Authority would allow the administration to negotiate free trade agreements with foreign countries based on goals as determined by Congress. Lawmakers in Congress would have the opportunity to review trade pacts and approve or disapprove of them based on their potential to achieve congressionally established objectives.

TPA sets up a guideline for trade negotiations, informing the other countries at the table of America's baseline parameters necessary for congressional approval.

This legislation would have significant benefits for America's medical technology and diagnostic companies, the healthcare sector in general, and the broader economy. free trade agreements open new markets to U.S firms, expanding the number of consumers who can buy American goods and services. This benefits American businesses as well as their employees.

The purpose of the TPA is that all businesses, no matter how small, can benefit from equal access to international markets. For the medical technology industry, where 75 percent of manufacturers are small companies, this equal access is particularly important.

Another benefit of the proposed TPA is its commitment to transparent, fair, and impartial policies with respect to other governments' regulatory and reimbursement policies — measures that have been long sought-after by U.S. companies.

Trade pacts increase the potential for U.S. exports, thus empowering U.S. firms to grow and create more jobs at home. Global trade is responsible for one in five U.S. jobs today, which is twice as many as 20 years ago. As U.S. exports have grown, so have U.S. jobs. In 2013, U.S. exports supported 11.3 million jobs, which is 1.6 million more than in 2009.

The U.S. medical technology sector benefits greatly from trade. Our industry is a net exporter, accumulating more than $42 billion in annual exports. It is one of the few sectors where the United States maintains a positive trade balance, which is in large part what enables our industry to support two million U.S. jobs that pay 40 percent above the national average salary.

Kevin Lobo, chairman and CEO of Stryker Corporation of Kalamzaoo, serves as the Advanced Medical Technology Association's International Board Committee chairman.