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U.S. Economy and Business

Foreign Trade

A rice shop owner tries to attract his customers with bags of U.S. rice produced in California at his shop in Tokyo.

A rice shop owner tries to attract his customers with bags of U.S. rice produced in California at his shop in Tokyo.

U.S. foreign trade and global economic policies have changed direction dramatically during the more than two centuries that the United States has been a country. In the early days of the nation's history, government and business mostly concentrated on developing the domestic economy irrespective of what went on abroad.

But since the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II, the country generally has sought to reduce trade barriers and coordinate the world economic system. Americans are convinced that trade promotes economic growth, social stability, and democracy in individual countries and that it advances world prosperity, the rule of law, and peace in international relations.

Since 1993, more than a third of economic growth has come directly from exports, and the number of export-related jobs has increased by an estimated 2.2 million. A total of some 12.1 million U.S. jobs depend on exports, and U.S. jobs supported by exported goods pay an average of 13%-16% more than the overall U.S. average. The United States supported trade liberalization and was instrumental in the creation of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), an international code of tariff and trade rules. One other principle the United States traditionally has followed in the trade arena is multilateralism. Despite its commitment to multilateralism, the United States in recent years also has pursued regional and bilateral trade agreements.

The emergence of electronic commerce also is opening a whole new set of trade issues. In 1998, ministers of the World Trade Organization issued a declaration that countries should not interfere with electronic commerce by imposing duties on electronic transmissions, but many issues remain unresolved. The United States would like to make the Internet a tariff-free zone, ensure competitive telecommunications markets around the world, and establish global protections for intellectual property in digital products.

Abridged from U.S. State Department IIP publications and other U.S. government materials.

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