Rhode Island’s Place in a Transatlantic Partnership

The promise of the New World led early generations of New Englanders across an ocean.

Now, centuries later, a new world of opportunity – or, more specifically, renewed opportunity – is approaching.  No peril is involved this time, but the promise, once again, comes from across the Atlantic.

Recently, the United States and European Union (EU) trade officials entered third round negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) in Washington D.C.  The proposed free trade agreement would remove trade barriers across a range of sectors – providing a comprehensive economic alliance among two of the world’s largest economies.  Due to the scale of the proposal, negotiations will continue on through 2014.

If implemented, the TTIP would be a major diplomatic achievement.  More importantly, for both the recession-rocked US and EU, the reduction in trade restrictions would create jobs and lower the cost of goods.

On this side of the Atlantic, Rhode Island’s federal and state-level leaders have endorsed the TTIP.  European Union Ambassador to the United States João Vale de Almeida was invited to Bryant University this summer to speak on the potential benefits of the TTIP, and the discussion was lauded by Governor Lincoln Chafee.  The point of focus then and now is economic growth.

Indeed, Rhode Island would benefit from the TTIP.  If in no other way, the US increase in trade with the EU is projected to produce over 700,000 new jobs across the country.  But a recent analysis of this trade deal forecasts promising specifics for Rhode Island.

Entitled, “TTIP and the Fifty States: Jobs and Growth from Coast to Coast,” this joint report by the Atlantic Council, the Bertelsmann Foundation, and the British Embassy in Washington highlights the TTIP’s state-by-state effect.  Rhode Island is notable among the statewide winners.

In large part, preexisting trade strength between Rhode Island and the EU drives the potential success.  As the report indicates, “The EU purchased Rhode Island goods worth $624 million in 2012 and services worth $518 million in 2011.”

Rhode Island’s trade flows – particularly the exportation of jewelry and metals – are woven into the history of the state.  The renowned Jewelry District in Providence served as the hub for these industries, and now export operations in metals is steadily increasing.  In fact, the report identifies that in the past seven years, exports of Rhode Island’s nonferrous metal to the EU have increased by 400 percent.

In more direct relation to the TTIP, over a quarter of export movement from Rhode Island is transatlantic.  US metal and metal product exports would only increase – by around 88 percent – with a bolster from freer trade.

Bottom line? Projected growth in the report shows that the TTIP will “increase Rhode Island exports to the EU by 30.2 percent and could boost net employment by 2,670 jobs.”

These numbers – along with the peace of mind that it will all come at no cost to taxpayers – should excite state leaders looking for economic answers.

And the benefits of this sweeping proposal extend beyond job growth. It will open competitive markets, offer stronger protection of intellectual property rights, and advance the rule of law. Each element of this proposal could serve as a model for other nations’ future transnational partnerships.

Of course, in Rhode Island, there are plenty of smaller-scale initiatives to keep state businesses occupied.  Nonetheless, business leaders should begin to identify how they can activate on a successful TTIP implementation.  This list is far-reaching, including greater export efforts, transnational partnerships, and marketing to EU customer bases.

Such an expanded view of the state’s economic future requires a look past the short term, beyond the shores of Rhode Island’s coastline.

Because once more, across the Atlantic, opportunity awaits.

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