US must stay involved in global aid and trade, Burr says

With American jobs increasingly tied to consumers in foreign countries, the U.S. can’t afford to shy away from international affairs and global trade, U.S. Sen. Richard Burr told a luncheon crowd in Charlotte on Thursday.

Burr, a Republican, made his remarks before an audience of more than 500 business and civic leaders convened by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, a national network that wants foreign aid and diplomacy to be as important as defense in America’s interactions with the rest of the globe.

Burr noted the rising economic power of China, and added that 70 percent of the world’s purchasing power lies outside of the United States. By 2030, he said, Africa will be the most populated continent, and Chinese firms are steadily making inroads there.

“We should be in a mode where we are aggressively open about every market possible,” he said. “The U.S. consumer has been a beneficiary of (global) competition.”

With unrest in nations such as the Ukraine and Syria, he said, American foreign policy goals need sharpening to better protect U.S. interests.

Burr said he worries about “the lack of our ability to clarify our foreign policy. Will we be there (for allies)? Will we live up to the agreements we’ve made? These (questions) are critical to our economic growth.”

The luncheon at the Hilton Charlotte Center City also featured appearances by former N.C. Gov. Jim Martin and state Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker.

Decker said trade supports nearly 1.2 million jobs in North Carolina, or 22 percent of the total jobs. In 2011, more than 10,800 companies exported goods from the state; 88 percent were small and medium-sized firms with fewer than 500 employees.