Remarks by Ambassador Ron Kirk at Howard University

“Securing America’s Future: Innovation Jobs for the Middle Class”

An Event Co-Hosted by National Foreign Trade Council’s Global Innovation Forum
and Howard University’s ELI Institute

April 8, 2009

, D.C.
View Video
(Courtesy of Howard University)


Thank you, Ambassador Horace Dawson and Howard University.

I would also like to thank Bill Reinsch of the National Foreign Trade Council, and Dean Harvey of Howard University Business School.

I’m excited to be here today because the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and Howard Law School are building strong ties. Next month, a Howard law student (named Alexandra Whittaker) will be the first “extern” in a new joint program with my General Counsel’s office. In this program, we’ll have a second-year law student work in the USTR Office of General Counsel full-time during the summer and part-time during their third year. We’re excited about giving the sharp minds at Howard Law School a chance to participate in international trade at this pivotal time.

I’m also glad to be here because I know this crowd gets it. You understand the intersection of innovation and trade.

You know that trade is a huge part of our country’s economy. Last year, exports were a record 13 percent of our GDP.

And you know that trade presents vast opportunities to businesses big and small. Ninety-seven percent of American exporters are businesses with fewer than 500 employees.

President Obama’s top priority today is turning around the American economy. And the innovation and creativity you’re talking about today are the cornerstone of our future economic development. The brainpower of American researchers, scientists, engineers and manufacturing workers are already solving the world’s greatest challenges– from health crises like AIDS and heart disease, to energy crises like climate change. And America’s industrial sector is ready to produce the solutions - from sophisticated chemicals to precision components.

But as the President’s Trade Policy Agenda says, one key to our economic success is our ability to trade that innovation and creativity – through our products, our services, our intellectual property – in a rules-based system around the world.

So I urge all of you to consider, in your discussions today, how innovative engagement in the global marketplace can grow jobs and our country’s competitiveness.

Many of you know that before I became U.S. Trade Representative I was Mayor of Dallas.

During my time as Mayor, I was actively involved in and supported an effort to build a biotechnology hub around our city’s amazing medical facilities. In particular, we already had the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. And it was because we had the right infrastructure that we could use innovation to expand Dallas’s economic base.

Now, one of my jobs as United States Trade Representative is to make sure that we have the right infrastructure in international trade rules to protect American innovation and creativity, and allow it to grow.

We know the world is hungry for American ideas. Ninety-five percent of all consumers live outside the United States. So I’m going to spend a great deal of my time expanding global markets for the products and services that flow from American ideas. But getting our products and services into those world markets is only my first task.

American intellectual property, goods, and services can hit the global marketplace sometimes with just a keystroke. If we’re not vigilant, they can vanish after that.

The reality of today’s economy is that there are those who seek their own profit at the expense of American ingenuity, through counterfeiting and piracy of I-P.

So we must work to make sure that when American goods, services, and intellectual property arrive in world markets, they benefit from basic safeguards similar to those they enjoy at home. The President and I are confident that given a level playing field, America’s businesses and workers can successfully compete with those anywhere in the world.

But intellectual property theft and trade in knockoff goods skew the playing field, and generate a host of other problems. They cause significant financial losses for rights holders and legitimate businesses. Counterfeiting of some products, such as car parts and medicines, poses a real risk to health and safety. These crimes also hinder sustainable economic development in many countries.

Significant as those issues are, the need for trade enforcement reaches far beyond I-P concerns. That’s why the President and I are working with Congress to ensure a rules-based system across the board. Here’s how.

To help ensure that our exports can compete around the world:

  • We are asking our trading partners to commit to actions that level the playing field fairly for American workers and businesses. It’s not too much to ask of them to not only protect and enforce intellectual property rights, but also to provide market access and protections for U.S. investors; to respect internationally recognized labor rights; and to raise environmental standards.

  • And the rules our trading partners set have to be balanced and fair. For instance, American firms deserve the chance to compete in marketplaces where governments set rules about safety and security performance. But governments can’t design the rules to pick technological winners that fulfill these requirements. If they do, American businesses and workers will still end up on the losing end.

  • Once we have those commitments, we are making sure that our trading partners follow through on those commitments, so that American workers and businesses get the benefits of our bargains.

  • When our trading partners fall short of their commitments, we will use all the tools in our toolbox to get them back on track. These can range from reports that point out problems, to direct dialogues, to exercising our rights to bring legal cases in the World Trade Organization.

At this time of extraordinary economic uncertainty, the President and I will keep working to empower American businesses to create jobs, expand opportunities for economic growth, and improve the lives of Americans.

We need to preserve and grow innovative, creative industries now more than ever. We need to create high-wage jobs today, and build new industries that will bring jobs for years to come.

This economic crisis was not made in a day, and it will not be solved in a day. Beating this recession will take time, resolve and patience.

But America’s ideas can help turn this economy around sooner rather than later. Working together, we can make sure that American workers and their families succeed in a global economy.

I am grateful to all of you for coming together today to bring your incredible range of experience and insights to this great challenge, and I look forward to hearing about the results of your discussions.

Thank you so much for the invitation to join you today. I look forward to working with you.