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Tech sector at risk without trade deals

A ship is docked at the Port of Oakland. Global exports directly support about 40 percent of U.S. tech manufacturing jobs, the industry trade association says.
A ship is docked at the Port of Oakland. Global exports directly support about 40 percent of U.S. tech manufacturing jobs, the industry trade association says. New York Times file

The tech industry is one of the fastest growing employment sectors in the country, creating 10 percent of all new jobs last year and outpacing construction, finance, transportation and entertainment job growth in recent years.

But that robust growth could be imperiled if we unravel key trade deals that are essential to maintaining our competitive edge.

 
Opinion

Global exports directly support about 40 percent of U.S. tech manufacturing jobs, and drive about $1 out of every $4 generated in the industry. Tech products rank second in U.S. manufacturing exports, and tech services also rank second among service-related exports – totaling an estimated $309 billion in exports in 2016.

California, in particular, relies on trade in technological goods with Canada, Mexico and countries around the world to sustain the state’s economy. Computer and electronic products are the top export category for California, $42 billion worth in 2016. Free trade partners accounted for 39 percent of the state’s exports, and the market among free trade partners grew 23 percent from 2006 to 2016. The International Trade Administration estimates that trade overall supports more than 700,000 jobs in California.

That’s why it’s so important for the U.S. to approach the renegotiation of long-standing trade agreements with an eye toward the significant impact trade has had on the tech industry here at home. Those millions of tech workers rely on the foreign commerce boosted by U.S. trade deals, including the North American Free Trade Agreement. According to the Department of Commerce, 96 percent of consumers live outside the United States. We can’t continue to develop innovative products and services if we don’t have access to companies and consumers in the global marketplace. If markets are shut off, jobs are destroyed.

The NAFTA trade bloc – the U.S., Canada and Mexico – accounts for a quarter of global output and is an integral part of the health of our economy. While NAFTA needs to be updated to reflect 21st century economic realities, withdrawal would be an abdication of our global economic leadership. Further, a departure from trade agreements benefits our competitors around the world. For example, China wants to displace the U.S. as the world’s tech leader, and the European Union just inked a trade deal with Canada and is pushing to complete a deal with Mexico before the end of the year.

A vibrant and dynamic global trade system is critical to continuing U.S. tech dominance. Are there changes to be made? Of course, but more than 14 million technology and technology-related jobs tells us that closing our borders and ratcheting up trade tariffs are not the answers.

Elizabeth Hyman is executive vice president for public advocacy at CompTIA, a trade association for the information technology industry. She can be contacted at advocacy@comptia.org.

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