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Meridian's Global Leadership Summit looks at 'why foreign policy matters'
Diplomatic Pouch / October 22, 2015

By Larry Luxner

Ed Royce, a Catholic Republican from Los Angeles, and Eliot Engel, a Jewish Democrat from the Bronx, hail from opposite coasts and opposite sides of the political spectrum as well — but both are equally passionate when it comes to foreign affairs and its relevance in American political discourse.

The two influential congressmen spoke Oct. 16 at the Meridian Global Leadership Summit, an annual event organized by the nonprofit Meridian International Center and co-sponsored by Coca-Cola, Gallup, Albright Stonebridge Group and the Financial Times. This year’s event took place at Washington’s Ronald Reagan Building.

In a wide-ranging Q&A moderated by Alonzo Fulgham, former acting administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Engel called 9/11 a “defining moment” in American history.

“We previously had this false sense of security, that bad things couldn’t happen to us. But we were wrong,” said Engel, ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Ed is from California and I’m from New York, and maybe Middle America is more insulated, but by and large, the American people do understand now that what happens around the world really ultimately affects us here as well.”

Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, spoke proudly of his co-sponsorship — along with Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) — of the original African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA), which grants 39 countries the right to tariff-free exports of certain products into the U.S. market.

But he warned that throughout sub-Saharan Africa, Islamic religious schools — known as madrasas — are becoming hotbeds for religious extremism.

“We must put an end to the transfer of resources that always happens when the imam is no longer African,” said Royce. “Now he comes from the Gulf states, and has a different lesson plan. This has to stop, and we need to weigh in to make it stop.”

Royce, who took over the Foreign Affairs committee chairmanship from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) in 2013, said radical religious extremism is a dire threat to the United States, but that spreading prosperity worldwide could counter that threat.

“After World War II, the U.S. helped fashion a system where trade was liberalized. Over the last 20 years, we’ve lifted over a billion people out of poverty,” he said. “With U.S. leadership, we can help make the world not only a safer place but also a more human place. But we have to do it in a more bipartisan way.”

Engel said the House Foreign Affairs Committee is working to do just that.

“We have a diverse committee with people of many different ideas — from the extreme left to the extreme right — and yet we have fostered a climate where there’s respect for each other,” said the congressman, though he warned that cutting the budget for State Department or USAID programs overseas could have unintended consequences.

“The major problem facing the world now is terrorism. We worry what kind of a world your children and grandchildren will live in, and must get more serious about it,” he said. “We’ve been running tremendous budget deficits, with the parties fighting over how to balance the budget, but we’re making such a mistake if we don’t put resources into creating jobs. If people have jobs, they are much less likely to believe in jihad.”

In fact, the creation of not just jobs — but good jobs — was the focus of a report presented by Jon Clifton, managing director of Gallup Global Analytics.

Of the five billion adults on this planet, 1.3 billion have a good job, according to Clifton. Of these 1.3 billion, roughly 12 percent are actively engaged at work, in what Gallup defines as a “great” job.

“Out of a global workforce of an estimated 3.2 billion adults who are working or looking for work, then, only 5 percent, or 161 million people, have a great job,” Clifton said. “This means just short of three billion people who want a great job don’t have one. Global leaders need to make ‘great job’ creation a top priority. Using better metrics to understand the real jobs situation is a start.”

And one way to keep the United States competitive — and protect American jobs in the process — is to push through passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). So says Carlos Gutiérrez, president of Meridian and former U.S. secretary of commerce.

“TPP is very important for the United States because it add markets like Japan, Vietnam and Malaysia. That’s huge for the U.S., and it’s happening at the same time China leads the integration of Asia. Some people call it ASEAN+3, but the idea is an Asia-Pacific free trade bloc. The moment that happens, it’ll be the largest free trade area in the world, exceeding the size of the European Union. We can’t get shut out of Asia.”

Gutiérrez, in a conversation with Shawn Donnan, Washington-based world trade editor of the Financial Times, said “this ASEAN+3 may be 10 years away, but China is already building roads and infrastructure, so that when they have the agreement, they’ll be ready to go. Not being part of TPP is dangerous, especially for services and e-commerce, which is an area where we lead the world.”

Even though the Obama administration is pushing hard to get TPP approved by Congress, it faces considerable opposition from some Republicans and most Democrats. Leading GOP presidential contender Donald Trump has called it a “disaster,” while Hillary Clinton, who leads the polls among the Democrats, also opposes the deal.

Asked how he’d sell TPP to Congress, Gutiérrez said it’s too abstract for average people to relate to “so you have to do it almost company by company. If a company is interested in trade, they should first convince their employees why this is good for the company and why this is good for them.”

Yet he added that the rhetoric he’s hearing lately sounds extremely protectionist.

“Twenty-five years after NAFTA, all three countries [Canada, Mexico and the United States] are better off. It’s a trillion-dollar market and there’s a tremendous amount of integration and jobs tied to NAFTA, but it’s easy to make a populist argument out of NAFTA because I’m sure some industries in some communities have been impacted,” he said. “Trade in general has become a tough sell.”

Donnan asked Gutiérrez whether China should be allowed to join TPP, assuming Congress approves both it and the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) now being negotiated between the United States and the 28-member European Union.

“It would be tough to have that kind of agreement with China at the moment, but that’s what this treaty is supposed to do: set the foundation so one day we could have one someday — accomplish something the WTO was not able to accomplish,” he said.

“If we can get TPP and TTIP done, that’s 60% of the world’s economy right there,” added Gutiérrez, who after a 30-year career with cereal maker Kellogg Co. went on to serve as President George W. Bush’s secretary of commerce from 2005 to 2009.

“Maybe one day we’ll have a US-China FTA. Maybe it’s 10 years away. It’d like to think this is where the world is going, not self-sufficiency — the idea that countries don’t need trade,” he said. “Every time someone tries it, the economy suffers. It plays well and it’s a good applause line, but it’s terrible for the economy.”

When Donnan asked what retaliatory measures Washington should take in the event Beijing continues threatening its neighbors in South China Sea, Gutiérrez warned against imposing economic sanctions.

“I’d be very careful about that,” said the Havana-born Gutiérrez, even though he staunchly supported the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba until just a year ago. “When we link economics to politics, we as a government get in the way. U.S. businesses are probably the best ambassadors we have for promoting U.S. values.”

He added: “China may be the world’s factory, but still the great majority of new ideas comes from the United States. And that continues to be our competitive advantage.”

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