Free Trade Leadership: Not Made in America

Mark Lamborn /

Later this month, China and 15 other nations will begin negotiations for a possible new trade agreement.

This agreement, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, could encompass 28 percent of the global economy, to the benefit of all nations involved. These negotiations reflect a worldwide trend of bilateral and multilateral trade agreements, a trend that America has not fully embraced.

Since 2008, 68 regional trade agreements have come into force worldwide. While this is largely good news for international trade, people in the United States won’t see most of the benefits. During this period, the U.S. has only concluded five agreements.

For the past four years, U.S. trade policy has remained in limbo. This is harmful for the economy, and the Administration should once again make the U.S. a leader in forming sound trade arrangements that create jobs and have many additional benefits.

The United States has 13 total regional trade agreements in force. The European Union, excluding the enormous common market shared within its borders, has 32 agreements with outside nations. Even Chile, with 22 trade deals, has reached out to nations more than the U.S. has. Chile has trade agreements in place with all of North America, the EU, China, India, and Japan.

Here in the U.S., we don’t even have trade agreements with some of our closest allies, such as Europe or Japan. To be fair, this is perhaps as much their fault as ours.

But there is hope. Talks have continued for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement that would increase trade among about a dozen countries and may even include Japan.

As Heritage’s Index of Economic Freedom shows, countries that adopt free trade are much more prosperous than those that don’t. During President Obama’s first four years in office, U.S. trade leadership faltered while other countries moved forward. It’s time to start leading again so the U.S. doesn’t fall even further behind.

Mark Lamborn is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit