Keeping America Competitive

January 26, 2011 By Bill Lane

(Bill Lane is Co-President of the USGLC)

Last night President Obama used his State of the Union address to talk about keeping America competitive in the global economy. When 1 in 5 American jobs are now linked to trade, President Obama emphasized what business leaders already know—the future of American economic prosperity is inextricably linked with the rest of the world, and some of our greatest opportunities for growth lay in economic engagement abroad.

“If we are going to be competitive as a country and create jobs at home,” USAID Administrator Shah said recently, “We cannot ignore the billions of people who are currently very low income but will in fact form a major new middle-class market in the next two decades.” Economic forecasts back up these assertions. For example, India, China and Brazil, with a collective population of 2.7 billion people, are expected to grow at 8-12% per year in the next three years, compared with OECD countries including the United States and Europe, with a combined population of 1.2 billion people, which are expected to grow at 2-4% per year.

And it’s not just emerging economies like India and China that present opportunities for U.S. businesses—even middle performing developing nations – if they can maintain stability – foresee GDP growth rates in the 5-8% rate, with a sometimes rapidly growing population. In sub-Saharan Africa, there are 17 countries that have maintained rates of economic growth of 5-7% per year for the last decade. In order to remain competitive in these markets, America must be proactive—you don’t have to look very far these days to find an article about China’s growing influence in Africa and Latin America.

The United States currently invests in numerous programs and agencies funded by the International Affairs budget that promote U.S. exports, help open new markets abroad, and create American jobs at home. Our embassies and diplomatic corps around the world help businesses develop new economic opportunities. President Obama talked about investments in America’s future last night, and from a business perspective, the International Affairs Budget provides a clear return on our investments by keeping America competitive in the markets that will define the 21st century.