U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker Delivers Remarks on the State of the U.S. Economy, the Importance of Trade, And the President’s New Cuba Policy


Monday, March 30, 2015

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker today delivered keynote remarks on the state of the economy, the importance of trade and exports to America’s economic growth, and President Obama’s new Cuba policy at a forum in Tampa, Florida, hosted by Congresswoman Kathy Castor, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, and the Tampa International Airport.

In her remarks, Secretary Pritzker discussed the progress of the recovery in the United States and highlighted new trade agreements in the Asia Pacific and Europe as key components of the Obama Administration’s agenda to build a lasting economic expansion nationwide. The Secretary also reiterated how the President’s decision to begin the process of normalizing diplomatic ties with Cuba will spur prosperity for the Cuban people and open opportunities for U.S. businesses in Tampa, across Florida, and around the country.

Remarks As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Congresswoman Castor, for your introduction and for co-hosting this important forum with the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and the Tampa International Airport.

I also want to thank you for being a strong supporter of the Department of Commerce and the work we do every day to strengthen Florida businesses, to expand exports, and to grow travel and tourism. Additionally, I appreciate your backing for President Obama’s new approach to Cuba, which is a key topic of discussion this morning.

But before I touch on our Cuba policy, I would like to spend a few moments discussing the state of our economy and the importance of trade and exports to our recovery and continued growth.

The world our businesses face is more competitive than ever. With modern technology and communications, and with greater ease of transportation, national boundaries no longer define the marketplace or limit the reach of workers, consumers, or businesses. 

In this context, the United States cannot stand still. We must lead. The question is, how should we lead? How do we strengthen America’s competitiveness in the 21st century?

From President Obama to the Department of Commerce to the entire Administration, we understand that the answer starts with building a strong foundation here at home.

Establishing that foundation has not been easy. From day one, our Administration made tough choices and strategic decisions – we made smart investments in our infrastructure; provided targeted support for  local economic drivers like the Port of Tampa; took steps to revive our auto industry and revitalize our manufacturing sector, and more.

Combined with the hard work of the American people and the perseverance of U.S. businesses, these difficult choices are paying dividends. Our economy is making a remarkable comeback. Jobs are rising. Unemployment is falling. Our stock market is soaring. Our nation is number one in oil and gas production. And our businesses are exporting more than ever before.

Today, it is clear that the United States is in a strong position. But our work is not complete. Turning our immediate recovery into a sustainable economic expansion means changing the way our country does business — and with the largest and most complex economy in the world, that takes time.

But that is precisely why the President has directed his team to focus on expanding exports; spurring innovation and R&D; driving skills training and education for American workers; and investing in clean energy. These are not short-term fixes, but long-term investments to help us build an economic foundation that will keep our nation competitive in a rapidly-changing world.

You need to look no further than Tampa to recognize that we still have more work to do. Tampa, like much of Florida, was hit harder by the recession than the rest of the country – and this region’s path back to steady, secure economic growth is unfinished.

Jobs numbers are a prime example of this city’s core challenge: your unemployment rate has dropped from a peak of 12.4 percent in January 2010 to 5.7 percent earlier this year. Employment has rebounded by nearly 125,000 jobs. Yet Tampa lost 160,000 jobs during the recession – which means there are still fewer jobs here now than there were before the crisis hit.

At the same time, home values plummeted by 50 percent during the downturn and have only regained about a quarter of their losses – which means Tampa families have not recaptured a key source of economic security.

Tampa’s ongoing challenges crystallize what you in business and we in government already know: we need to continue to strengthen our foundation for growth with an agenda that extends opportunity to the all of Tampa’s people and to all Americans.

For our Administration and for the Department of Commerce, that agenda starts with promoting more trade and exports.

Every day, 11.7 million Americans go to work in jobs supported by exports, including 275,000 people here in Florida. And those jobs pay up to 18 percent more than jobs not related to exports. What that means is: opening markets to more of our exports can play a critical role in boosting the economic security and incomes of America’s middle class.

Tampa and Florida businesses understand the value of trade and exports. In 2013, Tampa Bay area firms shipped $6.7 billion in merchandise abroad. In 2014, across Florida, companies exported $58.6 billion in goods, an increase of roughly $12 billion since President Obama took office. And out of 61,000 Florida businesses that export, more than 95 percent were small or medium-sized enterprises.

One of those small businesses, located in nearby St. Petersburg, is Ambient Technologies, a geophysical sciences firm with 40 employees.

Ambient primarily serves consulting, engineering, and construction companies in Florida and along the Gulf Coast. Yet the company also exports technical services and drilling equipment to customers in Central America and the Caribbean, with 20 percent of its revenue coming from export sales.

In fact, according to Ambient’s staff, the firm has benefited directly from past free trade agreements, citing, for example, “less expense to bring products to Panama” and other markets.

Stories like Ambient’s hold true in communities across the entire country. And our Administration’s ambitious trade agenda will help companies of all sizes and across all sectors gain access to millions of new customers and increase their export opportunities.

We cannot forget or ignore the fact that 95 percent of the world’s customers live outside the United States. Think about that: imagine starting a company and disregarding 95 percent of your potential customers – no smart business owner would ignore that much potential.

That is what our push for trade promotion legislation, for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, is about: providing American businesses with a fair opportunity to sell their goods and services to consumers across the Asia Pacific and in Europe – today, tomorrow, and long into the future.

Consider the potential of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, which includes 11 other countries across the Asia-Pacific. The region boasts the fastest-growing middle class the world has ever seen.  Today, there are 570 million middle class consumers living in the region; by 2030, that number is expected to reach 2.7 billion. 

To put that into perspective, the middle class in the U.S. is about 140 million. If we do not have fair access to those markets, 2.7 billion people will be buying goods and services from elsewhere. 

But fair access alone is not enough.  We need fair access on terms that reflect our values. In the United States, we believe there is a way to do business in the 21st century, defined by fair wages, safe workplaces, intellectual property rights, and a protected environment.

American firms abide by these standards each and every day – and we can use these trade agreements to push our economic partners to meet these same high standards.

Without agreements that set the rules of the road for global business according to our values, we risk seeing a global commercial environment dominated by weak regulations and low standards, which will only serve to help our competitors advance their interests. 

Without these agreements, there would be a race to the bottom that we cannot win and should not want to run – and which would place U.S. companies at a competitive disadvantage. 

Finally, these trade agreements are central to  preserving America’s continued global leadership. Vice President Biden has said that our trade agenda is one of the most important geopolitical efforts today.

We should be under no illusions about what’s at stake. If we fail to strike tough new trade deals, other countries will move quickly to fill the leadership void.  Our nation’s global standing will suffer, and we will lose influence among critical allies. 

Yet by completing these trade agreements, we will reinforce and strengthen our global leadership by knitting together an economic alliance that includes more than 60 percent of global GDP, ensuring that the United States continues to shape and define the global landscape.

Here is the bottom line: we need these new trade agreements, or our businesses and the workers they employ risk being left behind.

We know that our trade agenda is vital to our economic future. But so is embracing new opportunities and taking new policy approaches. That is why our new Cuba policy is such an important step forward.

Here in Tampa, ties to Cuba run deep – ties of culture and family, of trade and commerce. Your connections to Cuba date back centuries. In the 19th century, cattle were traded back and forth between Cuban cities and the Tampa community. In the 1890s, cigar workers from Tampa lent their support to the Cuban War of Independence. Until 1961, a Cuban consulate was located in Ybor City.

In recent years, Tampa has felt the positive impact of closer economic bonds between the U.S. and Cuba. In 2011, Tampa International Airport started running flights to three Cuban cities. That year, fewer than 8,000 people took those flights.

Yet in the first three quarters of last year, nearly 53,000 passengers traveled through your gateway to Cuba – and those numbers will only grow as we start to deepen the economic relationship between our two countries.

In December, President Obama announced the most significant changes in our policy toward Cuba in more than 50 years, charting a new course for our relationship. Decades of isolation have not helped to build a democratic and prosperous Cuba – and the time has come to change course.

Restoring our diplomatic relationship is, in part, about helping to build an economic future that empowers the Cuban people; develops a genuine Cuban private sector; and creates new opportunities for Floridians and all Americans to do business with the people of an island just 90 miles off our coast.

The President’s new policy is designed to help Cuban citizens become more connected to the world outside their shores and improve their standard of living. Gradually, our actions should give all Cubans an opportunity for greater economic independence.  

The Commerce Department is proud to play a leading role in facilitating more travel to the island and in opening the door to more exports. Our new policy allows American firms to increase exports of goods like agricultural products, medicines and medical devices, and building materials, to an untapped market.

This will allow our private sector to serve as a force for positive change and as a catalyst for increased economic opportunity in Cuba.

I am happy to see that Matt Borman, from the Commerce Department, will be on one of your panels today. He can answer your specific questions about recent changes in regulations.

President Obama and our team are eager for a more open relationship with Cuba’s businesses and people. This Administration has worked – and is working – hard to advance the process of formally establishing diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba. We need Cuba’s leaders to do the same and to increase their cooperation with U.S. officials. 

We are looking forward to the day where we open a U.S. Embassy in Havana.

Once we make sufficient progress, I look forward to visiting the island and supporting reforms that will foster improved conditions for all Cubans.

Our approach to Cuba is a reflection of our broader effort to adapt our policies to new challenges and opportunities – to ensure that the United States continues to lead and compete in the 21st century.

As a nation, we have the ability and the responsibility to set an example of strong, smart, and courageous leadership – to benefit our businesses and people at home, and to spur growth around the world. We have the opportunity to build a future of prosperity in Tampa, in Florida, and across our country.

Through smart policy choices; through strong partnerships with Congresswoman Castor, the Tampa Chamber, and business leaders throughout the United States – I am confident we can keep America ripe for more growth, ready for more progress, and open for more business. Thank you.

Related content

Last updated: 2015-03-30 11:22

Bureaus & Offices

Search by organization name or browse the tree below