Hills Discusses U.S. Trade, Serves as Ambassador in Residence

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Ambassador Carla A. Hills, former United States Trade Representative, cautioned that turning away from open trade agreements not only limits economic growth in the United States, but also poses a threat to our national security.

Hon. William Webster, Ambassador Carla Hills and Dean Kent Syverud
Hon. William Webster, Ambassador Carla Hills
and Dean Kent Syverud. Photo by Mary Butkus

Hills recently delivered the 2007-08 Tyrrell Williams Lecture on “Trade and the 2008 Elections.”  She also served as the school's Ambassador in Residence. Hills is chairman and chief executive officer of Hills & Company, International Consultants, which advises companies on global trade and investment issues. She also serves as chair of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. Hills was United States Trade Representative (1989-93) in the first Bush Administration. A member of then President Bush’s cabinet, she served as the President’s principal adviser on international trade policy.

A strong, bi-partisan consensus favoring the free flow of goods, services, ideas, and capital has guided the United States since World War II, Hills said. Since that time, our country has taken a leadership role in opening global markets, she said.

Nevertheless, trade sentiment is now shifting into profound disfavor, as highlighted by the 2008 elections. Hills said: “For the most part, Republican presidential contenders duck trade issues, while the Democrats trash them.”

Instead, we should urge government officials to conclude successfully the current round of trade talks. Hills argued that open trade benefits every American, and at the same time reduces global poverty.

“Globalization has made the United States richer by $1 trillion per year, creating about $9,000 of additional wealth each year for the average American household,” she said.

It also helps developing nations to grow their economies, as well as liberalize their political regimes. Hills said: “Adherence to a set of trade rules encourages transparency, rule of law, and respect for property that encourages stability.”

Expanding worldwide markets would continue to raise United States household incomes significantly, Hills said. In addition, trade would help reduce poverty worldwide by promoting the building of future markets, she said. Open markets also mean greater United States security, she said.

“Impoverished states often lack the ability to enforce their laws and secure their borders, making it much more difficult for the U.S. government to deal effectively with transnational problems – like terrorism, organized crime, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, illegal arms sales, disease pandemics, and environmental degradation,” Hills said.

A lack of understanding contributes to the declining support for trade, Hills said. She called on businesses, universities, think tanks, and knowledgeable citizens to help educate Americans about globalization.

Hills also urged that workers displaced by technology jobs and other changes resulting from globalization must be helped through programs offering wage insurance, effective job training, and portable health care benefits. A portion of the substantial yearly gains derived from trade could fund such programs, she said.

“To rebuild public confidence in open markets, I think we’re going to have to do a lot more,” Hills concluded.