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Two trade pacts would help firms sell abroad, support U.S. jobs

When a country agrees to a trade deal, it is also agreeing to labor, environmental, safety and other standards

Since our blue-and-yellow can first hit store shelves in San Diego in 1958, WD-40 Multi-Use Product has become a household item around the globe. Our company now supports thousands of jobs in the United States. But we weren't always the size we are today.

When I was appointed WD-40 Co.'s chief executive in 1997, the company was just a quarter of its current size. We knew then that a crucial driver of our future growth would be expanding to markets around the world. Today, our products are available in 176 countries and territories. Although we have facilities and employees in other countries, we are based primarily in the United States and manufacture more products here than anywhere else.

The revenue gained from selling our products abroad ultimately comes back to benefit our company in California, where we are headquartered. That means we have been able to create more jobs and pay higher wages. About 65% of our customers live outside America's borders. If we had not decided to export years ago, we would have missed a huge growth opportunity.

Business is booming, but we face unnecessary challenges selling American-made products in foreign markets. For example, our company has struggled with weak intellectual property protection in other countries. In places such as Malaysia we've seen a proliferation of WD-40 knock-offs and counterfeit products. These goods are typically poor-quality imitations that threaten the integrity of our brand, cut into our market share and damage our bottom line.

Fortunately, the United States is negotiating two significant trade agreements that could help overcome many of the difficulties that come with doing business internationally. They would, for example, strengthen and standardize intellectual property rules in participating countries, making it much easier to protect our trademarks so we can sell more of our legitimate products. One of the agreements is the Trans-Pacific Partnership with countries in the Asia Pacific. The other is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, with the European Union.

In addition to intellectual property protections, these two trade pacts would streamline customs regulations, make doing business abroad less burdensome and less costly, and ensure all countries play by the same rules. When a country agrees to a trade deal, it is also agreeing to labor, environmental, safety and other standards.

These trade agreements would also make trade between countries more stable and efficient; uncertainty is not good for business. The recent paralysis of the West Coast port system is a perfect example of this. Our company and many others experienced revenue shortfalls because shipping containers were backlogged. If we do not have reliable infrastructure to move our goods to other countries, we may be forced to move a manufacturing base to Asia. We do not want to do that, but we must be able to reliably ship our products out of the United States.

Washington must help companies like ours do business smarter, not harder. The first step is for Congress to pass trade promotion authority, sometimes referred to as "fast-track authority." That would give the president the authority to negotiate and complete these trade agreements in good faith. That way, other countries can trust that what they agree to will stick. Without trade promotion authority, these trade agreements could fall through.

The bottom line is that trade agreements will help the United States compete and maintain its leadership in the world economy. Passing trade promotion authority and the trade deals is a sure way to help California companies like ours continue to grow and employ more people here at home. Without it, our economic competitiveness is at stake. When American companies can better compete globally, America can better compete globally.

Garry Ridge is the president and chief executive officer of WD-40 Co., based in San Diego.

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