By Bob Corker
Two years ago, Volkswagen AG (VOW) opened a $1 billion manufacturing facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee, that employs 3,300 Americans and makes 150,000 cars a year for the U.S. market and for export to Canada, Mexico and South Korea.
This investment has been transformative, creating jobs and growth not only in Tennessee but also throughout the region. It's an experience we can repeat throughout the country if we tear down obstacles to foreign investment and trade.
Last week, President Barack Obama formally told Congress of his intention to create the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with Europe. Completing this historic agreement will strengthen America's future competitiveness and prosperity.
The U.S. and the 27 nations of the European Union form the world's largest trading area. Our combined population of 800 million generates almost half of the world's gross domestic product. As the world's two biggest markets, the U.S. and Europe account for more than 40 percent of world trade.
In addition, the U.S. and Europe are heavily invested in each other's economies. Our manufacturing processes are already highly integrated. In 2011, U.S. investors earned more than $250 billion in income on European assets. European investments like Volkswagen's in Tennessee have created millions of jobs in the U.S.
In spite of these deep trade and investment ties, we could be doing better. An automobile built at Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant faces a 10 percent import duty if exported to Europe. The trade agreement would eliminate these tariffs, reducing costs for the consumer, encouraging further investment in the U.S. and spurring new trade between our economies. Greater transparency and regulatory coherence under the agreement would deliver further benefits by cutting our costs and making our businesses more competitive.
Today the U.S. is looking forward to an abundance of cheap domestic energy, especially natural gas, which is already powering a manufacturing renaissance. This will make the U.S. an even more attractive platform for exports to the EU and beyond, drawing in additional European investment. The trade deal will help us make the most of this remarkable opportunity.
A successful trans-Atlantic trade and investment deal would provide advantages beyond our borders as well. Closer cooperation between the U.S. and EU will probably lead to common approaches to resolving trade issues with other countries and strengthen our hand at the World Trade Organization. Working together, the U.S. and Europe can lead the world in liberalizing trade worldwide -- creating new opportunities for our businesses, more growth and more jobs.
The benefits of an agreement are overwhelming, but there are obstacles to overcome. The U.S. and EU have longstanding, unresolved differences in sectors such as agriculture. We must also be careful that regulatory coherence promotes efficiency rather than an expanded regulatory state. But these challenges shouldn't discourage us from pursuing a comprehensive and ambitious agreement. We have a chance to settle our differences, and we shouldn't let it go by.
Under our Constitution, Congress is tasked "to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations," and a trade agreement reached with Europe needs approval by Congress and the European Parliament. It's essential that we have a healthy dialogue between the executive and legislative branches to build support for the agreement before anything is final.
From the beginning of his administration, President Obama has engaged in negotiations with our trading partners without specific authorization from Congress. The president should work with Congress to enact trade promotion authority this year. That will only strengthen our hand in these talks. The American people expect Congress and the president to work together to ensure that our trade priorities serve the goals of economic growth and jobs.
Much has been made of President Obama's "pivot to Asia." We're turning our focus to Asia for important strategic reasons, and I'm confident the president can look toward Europe with an equal sense of purpose.
I intend to be a very active advocate in the Senate for a U.S.-EU free-trade agreement, and look forward to working with the president and my colleagues to ensure these negotiations are successful.
(Bob Corker is a Republican U.S. senator from Tennessee and the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The opinions expressed are his own.)