The Trans-Pacific Partnership and Small Business: Boosting Exports and Inclusive Growth

With the release of the full text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), America now has an important—and extensive—opportunity to review the agreement’s actual terms. Critics are certain to reprise old arguments, including those that blame trade for economic disruptions whose origins often lie elsewhere. And they’ll offer newer criticisms, including the claim that TPP isn’t really about trade or cutting tariffs but, rather, is a scheme to advance the agenda of large multinational corporations.

This latest charge will likely be news to the hundreds of thousands of small and mid-sized American firms that currently export—and the growing numbers of small entrepreneurs who are seeking greater opportunity through trade. America’s smaller exporters will note that the TPP has made small business trade a key point of emphasis, and that it includes groundbreaking provisions to boost their ability to export to key TPP markets.

Increasing exports by U.S. small business can also be a vital opportunity to promote stronger—and more inclusive—economic growth. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that export have higher sales, hire more employees, and pay higher wages than non-exporting SMEs. And because exporters account for only about one percent of all U.S. SMEs, America has significant untapped potential to support growth, good jobs, and economic mobility through increased small business trade.

But to meet this potential, it’s vital for the United States to reduce the extensive and often onerous foreign trade barriers that often keep SME traders on the sidelines. High duties and costs, customs red tape, unnecessarily complex regulations, and other barriers negatively impact American exporters of all sizes, but they can loom particularly large for small entrepreneurs that lack the resources, personnel, contacts, and extensive support networks of bigger competitors.

In this policy brief, we first review the TPP agreement and explain how it would eliminate significant trade barriers to U.S. small business and enable more American SMEs to prosper by exporting to fast-growing Asia-Pacific markets. We then highlight how the TPP’s support for small business trade can play a vital, broader role, helping to boost the overall economy and “democratizing” trade by assuring that trade’s significant benefits are shared more widely by more Americans.

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