Free Enterprise Freedom At Root Of Van Andels Cause
ADA — Trade has topped his list of priorities this year as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce chairman, Steve Van Andel told members of the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan.
Van Andel, chairman of Alticor Inc., spoke to council members Tuesday about the power of free enterprise, the power of freedom — and what the U.S. business community can do to advance the cause for both.
During his one-year term as U.S. Chamber of Commerce chairman, which ends in June, he has traveled extensively throughout the United States and has visited Europe, Japan, China, Korea and Latin America.
Over the past few months, he said, he’s had the chance to speak out about what business believes in and what he personally believes in.
“Free trade and fair regulation are keys to economic growth in all markets,” he said. “I traveled around the world this year for the chamber and that certainly has been my message.”
What all the trade agreements — WTO, NAFTA, MTA and so forth — have in common is the belief that free enterprise works best where markets operate both freely and fairly, he said.
He believes U.S. free trade has encouraged American business to hone its sense of creativity and innovation.
Increased foreign trade and investment by U.S. companies of all kinds and sizes has fueled economic growth for some time. U.S. exports accounted for about one quarter of all growth in the 1990s, he pointed out.
According to Van Andel’s figures, one out of every six products manufactured here is for export; one out of every three acres of farmland in the U.S. is planted for export; and trade presently supports more than 22 million American jobs.
The Senate is now debating whether to grant President Bush Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), formerly known as “fast-track,” the trade negotiating authority Congress has granted each of the previous five presidents. The House of Representatives already has passed the legislation.
TPA has been an integral part of U.S. trade policy since 1974. Under the authority, the Executive branch has the leverage to negotiate the best possible trade deals.
Of the more than 130 preferential trade and investment agreements worldwide, America is party to only four, Van Andel said.
“I think American business certainly deserves better than that because American business needs the opportunity to play by the same rules as the rest of the world and that’s the reason for wanting to make sure that the Senate passes TPA next month.”
He said with the passage of TPA, American business would have the same advantages as its European and Asian counterparts.
A U.S. presence in those markets, Van Andel said, will help free enterprise and will help freedom take root as well.
What he also has learned in his travels around the world is that free enterprise changes lives.
“I’ve learned that free enterprise and personal freedom go hand in hand. But I think now more than ever we need to do everything within our powers to help those freedoms advance.”
In other countries, life is a little grittier than what most Americans experience, and in some countries it’s a lot grittier. He said open trade and investment have raised more than 100 million people out of poverty in the last decade.
“There is a close link between owning your own business and climbing away from those things that hold you down — like poverty, social caste or even gender roles.”
His travels this year have led him to believe that, more than ever, personal opportunity and political stability are closely related.
He spoke about trips to Argentina, Japan and India. India, for instance, has a democratically elected government but its economy is sheltered from competition, he said.
“The thing to me that is very interesting is that every one of those markets is a democracy but their governments have all been turning over almost every year, because in one way or another they’ve truly stifled their market’s ability to compete through free trade,” Van Andel remarked. “And every economic crisis in those markets is certainly likely to promote a political crisis as well.”
On the other end of the spectrum is China, a country that hasn’t had any political turnover in about 50 years. Even in Communist China, the government recognizes the key to stability is market reform, Van Andel said.
China is big enough to do pretty much whatever it wants, he said, but there’s a sense of restlessness among the country’s one billion people. They’ve seen the opportunities that other people have and want the same.
When Hong Kong folded back into China, it brought with it its free enterprise economy.
“Hong Kong was built on a market-based system and when that door opens up a crack, as it has in China, it’s a door I think that you really can’t close,” he said.
He thinks the movement in China is toward creating a market economy and encouraging investment and trade, and that China’s real objective is the same as it is for most other countries — trying to improve its citizenry’s standard of living.
On one of his trips to China, the Chinese leadership declared that entrepreneurs and business owners could join the Communist Party — after 80 years of being excluded.
On another trip to China, senior Chinese officials asked for Van Andel’s help in creating a chamber of commerce patterned after the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
He suggested people think about those two facts and make their own predictions about what may be ahead for China.