The U.S. Global Leadership Coalition held a special forum Friday to discuss the importance of U.S. foreign aid to Utah specifically, in the wake of the Trump Administration proposing a 24% cut to the foreign aid budget, which only makes up 1% of the total federal budget. This comes after cuts over 30% have already been made in the past two years.
Statistics from the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition state that 18.3% of jobs in Utah, or 352,900, are supported by trade. Over 51,000 of those jobs in 2016 were specifically supported by manufactured goods exports. In 2017, Utah exported $11.6 billion in goods to foreign markets, the largest of which included the U.K., Hong Kong, Canada, China and Mexico.
Outside of business, 8,520 foreign students were enrolled in Utah colleges and universities in 2017 and contributed $200 million to Utah’s economy.
“Utah is definitely globally-minded,” said Carey Campbell, the national outreach director for the USGLC.
Both Campbell and another speaker, Miles Hansen, president and CEO of the World Trade Center Utah, also cited the same statistic that 95% of the world’s customers live outside of the United States, many of them living in developing countries. One of the ideas stressed to the audience, many of them business owners, was the importance of supporting diplomacy and developing countries, as those countries then become allies.
“Supporting our nation’s diplomats and development workers provides us with a three-fold return on investment: our country is safer, our economy is stronger, and countless lives are improved worldwide,” Campbell said in a press release after the event.
Also speaking at today’s event was U.S. Rep. John Curtis, R-Provo. Curtis often referred to a recent trip he took to Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador and Mexico with the House Foreign Affairs committee when discussing the importance of global diplomacy for the U.S. economy. He seemed to be particularly struck by visiting the Venezuela-Colombia border, where he said many Venezuelans would cross the border to just have a good meal, then cross back over carrying as much as they could for their families.
“There is no better example that I have ever seen in the need for diplomacy,” Curtis said.
Curtis learned about President Donald Trump’s plans to cut foreign aid to several Latin American countries while on the trip and admitted he was surprised. However, each leader the House of Foreign Affairs team met with did not complain, Curtis said. Rather, they simply emphasized how important their relationship with the U.S. and the importance of the aid they were receiving.
Curtis did concede with Trump’s point that foreign aid spending needs to be accountable.
“We don’t just assume because we’re spending money good things are happening,” Curtis said.
However, he warned, cutting foreign aid to these Latin American countries would not only make the U.S. less safe, but it would likely increase immigration, as many immigrants fleeing their homes are simply seeking better economic opportunities.
They don’t want to leave their countries, Curtis said. They just feel as if they have no choice. Curtis said most countries receiving aid want to stand on their own, but they need help getting there, a point Campbell also made during the meeting. More importantly, Curtis said, if the U.S. does not continue to supply aid to countries in need, there will be a void to fill, and it will most likely be filled by China.
Derek Miller, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, emphasized the role economic trade plays in both helping developing countries stand on their own, as well as promote peace.
“The key to lasting peace is economic prosperity,” Miller said, quoting a foreign representative he once met. “The key to getting people out of violent situations is giving them opportunity.”
Campbell also emphasized that foreign aid promotes peace, rather than a strong military. The USGLC has 200 retired generals and admirals serving on it currently, as well as 30,000 veterans who are members. They created a joint statement which Campbell shared: “As military leaders who have commanded regional combatant commands in the Middle East, Latin America, Europe, Africa, the Pacific, and North America, we know that the military alone cannot keep our nation safe. Diplomacy and development are essential to combating threats before they reach our shores.”
Curtis encouraged those in attendance to make their support for foreign aid known at the end of the meeting.
“I think this is a state that desperately cares what’s happening around the world and wants to have an influence,” he said.
The USGLC Utah Advisory Committee is currently made up of nearly 70 business, faith, nonprofit, veteran, and political leaders currently. Those interested in learning more can visit the USGLC website at https://www.usglc.org/. There is also a summit in June where community leaders can network and meet with their representatives in Washington D.C. Find out more information and register for free at https://summit.usglc.org/