Column: Free trade's boost for Florida

As the British consul-general in Florida, a big part of my job is helping businesses make the most of opportunities for trade and investment between Florida and the United Kingdom.

There is no shortage of opportunities. U.K. investment in Florida is worth $3.9 billion alone, represented by more than 300 companies that support 39,000 jobs — more jobs than any other foreign direct investor, including Brazil, Canada and Japan.

To a great extent that is because, compared to the rest of the world, trade between the United States and the United Kingdom is relatively free. But I know from speaking to local business leaders that there are still some barriers — like tariffs and regulatory differences — that prevent them from doing more trade, investment and creating more jobs.

Realizing this, the United States and the European Union, the group of trading nations of which the United Kingdom is a leading member, have negotiated a deal to reduce or remove as many barriers as possible. The first round of negotiations has already taken place, and we hope to reach agreement within the next 18 months. We are calling it the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP for short.

The United States and the EU are the two largest economies in the world, with a combined value of around $30 trillion. U.S.-EU trade is worth $2.5 billion every day, one third of all world trade, and it's increasing all the time. A million jobs in the United States depend on trade with Britain alone. They tend to be good, well-paid jobs, with salaries above the U.S. average. So we always knew that the boost to our economies from freeing up trade was going to be large. What we didn't know, until recently, was how each individual state would benefit.

Now the results are in. A September 2013 study by the British Embassy in Washington, Bertelsmann Foundation and the Atlantic Council finds that TTIP could add more than 740,000 jobs to the U.S. economy as a whole — that's the equivalent of the entire working population of West Virginia. The average American household would stand to gain around $865 every year as a result of lower prices and higher average wages.

You can find the study, which was just released, online at www.gov.uk and tinyurl.com/tbtimes-UK.

But what does this mean for Florida, already one of the most pro-free trade states in the union? Florida already exports $6.1 billion worth of goods and $9.3 billion worth of services to the EU.

The predictions are good. The study projects that a U.S.-EU trade deal could add as many as 47,540 jobs to the Florida job market and boost Florida's exports to Europe by 26.9 percent. Many of those export gains will be realized in aerospace, transportation and chemicals, while the largest job increases should be seen in business and financial services.

I believe that's good news for the Tampa Bay area and Florida as a whole. Tampa is already home to major British companies such as BAE Systems, British Airways World Cargo and the medical device company of Smith and Nephew. The strategic investments you are making in ports, infrastructure, workforce and research at quality universities such as the University of South Florida, aligned with this trade deal, will continue to make Tampa Bay an attractive and competitive place to invest in and do business with.

Beyond the economics, the study also represents a key strategic opportunity for the United States and the EU. As a diplomat who has spent one-third of his career living in the United States, I believe that an ambitious game-changing agreement has the potential to send a powerful message to the rest of the world regarding the trans-Atlantic commitment to global rules and standards in international trade.

These numbers show that free trade is not just an idea. It has real benefits, both for business and for hard-working people. And that's why Floridians, and all Americans, should be excited about this deal.

Kevin McGurgan is the British consul-general for Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

Column: Free trade's boost for Florida 09/25/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 4:32pm]

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