My top priority as president is to grow the economy and open new avenues of opportunity for hardworking Americans. And in the past seven years, we've made progress. We continue to recover from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Our businesses have created jobs for 67 straight months — 13.2 million jobs over the past 5 1/2 years. The unemployment rate is lower than it's been in over seven years.
But in a relentlessly changing global economy, we've got more work to do. This month, we took a critical step in the right direction, reaching an international trade agreement that promotes America's values and protects American workers. The Trans-Pacific Partnership will lead to more Made in America exports and more higher-paying American jobs here at home.
Today, outdated trade rules put our workers and businesses at a disadvantage. Other countries can charge taxes — in the form of tariffs — on goods that are made in America. That means our businesses have been hamstrung by thousands of taxes that apply to everything from Washington cherries to Texas beef to Florida orange juice. At a time when 95 percent of the world's consumers live outside our borders, we simply can't afford that disadvantage.
The TPP will eliminate over 18,000 of these taxes on the products American manufacturers make, American farmers grow, and American innovators create. It's the largest tax cut on our exports in a generation, and will open new markets for our businesses.
We know that when companies sell their goods around the world, they tend to grow faster, hire more employees and pay higher salaries. Export-supported jobs on average pay up to 18 percent more than other jobs. Some estimates have shown that wages in manufacturing industries could be up to 12 percent higher if we were to eliminate taxes on American-made goods. That means more jobs and higher salaries for the people of Florida.
This agreement reflects the realities of a 21st century economy, where global trade plays an increasingly central role. In fact, trade is a substantial driver of Florida's economy. Goods exported by Florida supported over 270,000 U.S. jobs, and 21 percent of these exports were shipped to TPP partners.
It also reflects America's values. I'm the first person who will say that past trade agreements haven't lived up to their promise. But our future depends on doing trade right. That's why this agreement includes the strongest labor standards in history, from requirements for acceptable work conditions to prohibitions against child labor and forced labor. It includes the strongest environmental standards in history. And unlike past agreements, these standards are actually enforceable.
We can't look backward — we have to move forward. And to stand in the way of TPP is to do nothing but preserve the long-term status quo for American workers and make it even harder for them to succeed. And if we don't write the rules in the fast-growing Asia-Pacific, countries that don't share our values will write those rules instead, leading a race to the bottom that threatens American jobs and American businesses.
With this agreement, we are writing the rules for the global economy. America is leading in the 21st century. Our workers will be the ones who get ahead.
Every state, including Florida, stands to benefit from this trade agreement. Think of neighbors, friends or family members who could dare to set their sights higher and expand their small businesses into new markets.
In the coming weeks and months, Congress and the American people will be able to read every word even before I sign it. You'll be able to see for yourself how this historic agreement is better than past trade deals — and how it's better for America's working families.
Let's build on the progress we have already made together and secure a future for all of us that will help generations to come.
Barack Obama is president of the United States. This is exclusive in Florida to the Tampa Bay Times.