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Importance of Trade to U.S. Economy Highlighted in World Trade Week Events

This month, the vital role that international trade plays in the U.S. economy, and the part it plays in creating jobs, will be celebrated during World Trade Week, on May 17–23, 2009.

by John Ward

The Department of Commerce, exporters, state and local governments, partner organizations, and the public will come together for World Trade Week 2009 on May 17–23 to recognize the importance of international trade to the U.S. economy.

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President Barack Obama and President Lula da Silva of Brazil in Washington, D.C., on March 14, 2009. The president took the occasion to note how trade “is an important engine for economic growth.” (White House photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama and President Lula da Silva of Brazil in Washington, D.C., on March 14, 2009. The president took the occasion to note how trade “is an important engine for economic growth.” (White House photo by Pete Souza)


“World Trade Week is an opportunity to reaffirm the benefits of trade and to emphasize America's commitment to a global marketplace that creates good jobs and lifts up American families,” said President Barack Obama in a proclamation issued to mark the 76th World Trade Week. “The United States and our trading partners stand to gain when trade is open, transparent, rules-based, and fair, showing respect for labor and environmental standards.”

Public events across the country will be held to honor the achievements of U.S. exporters and to highlight opportunities for businesses interested in exporting.

Beginnings in the 1930s

World Trade Week was first observed in 1933—at a time of economic hardship for the nation—with a proclamation by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who designated the third week in May as “National Foreign Trade Week.”

“Foreign markets must be regained if American producers are to rebuild a full and enduring domestic prosperity for our people,” said Roosevelt in a message to the National Foreign Trade Council. “There is no other way if we would avoid painful economic dislocations, social readjustments, and unemployment.”

In the post–World War II era, the annual event was renamed World Trade Week and its scope expanded to include many activities throughout the country that recognize the importance of international trade to the U.S. economy.

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Poster for World Trade Week 1948.
Poster for World Trade Week 1948.


A Vital Contributor to the Economy

Just as it always has during previous cycles of growth and recession, exporting holds an important place in the U.S. economy. In 2008, U.S. exports of goods and services, on a balance of payments basis, totaled $1.84 trillion, an increase of 12 percent over 2007.

During the past decade, the share of U.S. gross domestic product accounted for by exporting has been growing—from 10.9 percent in 1998 to 13.0 percent in 2008.

6 Million Jobs

In 2008, according to figures compiled by the Census Bureau, exports of manufactured goods totaled $1.12 trillion. Manufactured exports supported roughly 6 million U.S. jobs in 2006, the latest year for which figures are available. Of those export-supported jobs, 2.58 million were in manufacturing industries. Those jobs accounted for 19.9 percent of all U.S. manufacturing employment, nearly one out of every five jobs.

Trade Surplus for Services

In 2008, services—the other component of exporting—posted a record trade surplus of $139.7 billion, an increase of 17.3 percent over 2007. Services exports totaled $544.4 billion in 2008, an increase of 9.5 percent over 2007.

Top U.S. services exports included other private services, such as business, professional, and technical services ($238.3 billion); travel ($110.5 billion); and royalties and license fees ($88.2 billion).

Government Role

Despite these positive trends in international trade over the past several years, the slowing of the overall U.S. economy since the beginning of the current downturn is reflected in the most recent figures for U.S. exports. For example, in March 2009, U.S. exports of goods and services decreased by 2.4 percent, to $123.6 billion, over February 2009. Imports decreased 1 percent, to $151.2 billion, over the same period, and the overall U.S. trade deficit grew 5.5 percent, to $27.6 billion, over February 2009.

It is in such a situation that exporting can be a vital strategy for U.S. businesses in this period of economic recovery. Many programs of the Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration (ITA) can help U.S. companies—especially small and medium-sized enterprises—realize their export potential. The programs include business counseling, which is offered through the domestic network of more than 100 U.S. Export Assistance Centers and through overseas commercial officers in more than 50 U.S. embassies.

There are also numerous ITA offices that are dedicated to promoting U.S. commercial interests at the policy level, in both bilateral and multilateral settings. These offices deal with business regulation, product standards, the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights, and many other issues affecting U.S. exports.

Challenges Ahead

The challenges that now lie ahead for U.S. businesses selling in the world market—from slowing markets, to regulatory and other barriers—make trade promotion programs more crucial than ever to ensuring the future success of U.S. exporters.

“We are taking steps critical to creating American jobs and jumpstarting local economies,” noted Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke recently. “We must continue to increase exports by fostering innovation . . . and by breaking down barriers to U.S. goods and services.”

World Trade Week 2009 will recognize those efforts to ensure, in Roosevelt’s words, “full and enduring domestic prosperity.”

John Ward is a writer in the International Trade Administration’s Office of Public Affairs.


Activities throughout the Country

Many U.S. Export Assistance Centers (USEACs) will be holding events in celebration of World Trade Week 2009. For more information, contact your local USEAC or visit

Trade organizations in Los Angeles and New York have organized many public activities during World Trade Week. Scheduled events in New York include an awards breakfast on May 18, 2009, and numerous information events in the days that follow on topics such as exporting resources and maritime piracy. Another event will celebrate New York’s 400 years as a commercial center. For more information, visit

World Trade Week in Los Angeles will begin with a breakfast event on May 7, 2009. Featured speakers include U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. For more information about this event and others in Los Angeles, visit