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CEA’s Shapiro:Free Trade KeyTo Digital Age

“We near the end of the beginning of our journey to the digital destiny,” Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) president/CEO Gary Shapiro told a packed auditorium during his opening keynote address at International CES.

Technology exploded in 2007, and growth for the industry is expected to remain in 2008, despite a bleak economic outlook, he said. This year, shipment revenues are forecasted to top $171 billion, a 6.1 percent growth rate over last year’s final figure of $161 billion, which marked an 8.2 percent gain from 2006. (See CEA forecast story, p. 17.)

“Even in an unclear economy, there is a demand for our products,” Shapiro asserted, noting the average household today has an average of 25 consumer electronics products.

“Our digital destiny is as inevitable as discovering America and critical to that is free trade,” he said in a theme that resonated throughout his speech. “Those who fear it don’t understand the facts,” Shapiro said, noting that America’s largest export sector is high-tech at $220 billion, making up 21 percent of total U.S. exported goods in 2006. Trading with other countries, according to 69 percent of Americans, is good for the United States.

We must call on our government to embrace free trade, Shapiro urged, noting that industry leaders from the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America were backing the CEA in pushing through pending free-trade agreements.

On opening day of the show, CEA along with these two organizations, signed a letter thanking Congress for the passage of the Peru free-trade agreement (FTA). The three associations are seeking additional actions as well, specifically, to pass pending FTAs with Colombia, Panama, and the Republic of Korea. “We must build bridges instead of closing borders,” Shapiro said.

For its part, the CEA is calling on Congress to pursue a pro-growth trade policy that includes pursuing bilateral trade agreements, reauthorizing trade promotion authority, eliminating non-tariff barriers and upholding and enforcing trade agreements.

“It’s not just about free trade — it’s about our national soul,” summed Shapiro. “We need to be a bright beacon for those who want to innovate and compete. We need to welcome the best — not just the products, but the people as well.”