America can ill afford to sit back and let other nations dictate what our future will look like. The world is constantly evolving, and if you're standing still, you're falling behind. We must be the ones to determine what role we will play in the global economy.

But what is the next step and our best opportunity to grow American leadership?

The answer for Minnesota employers and workers who want access to more markets for their products and services is trade. If the U.S. continues to drive the conversation by pursuing and completing new trade agreements with other countries, Minnesota stands to benefit. Let's look at the facts. Ninety-five percent of the world's consumers — who make up 80 percent of global purchasing power — live outside of the U.S. From quality agricultural products that our farmers and ranchers produce, to innovative medical technologies, to a robust manufacturing sector, Minnesota is uniquely positioned to sell goods and services to these consumers and create jobs here at home.

When it comes to trade — and its role in building a healthier economy — the numbers don't lie. Jobs that rely on trade pay 18 percent more than the national average. One in five U.S. jobs depends on trade. And it's businesses of all sizes and their employees that benefit. For instance, small- and medium-sized businesses make up 90 percent of the Minnesota companies that export goods and services to other countries. This is why you're seeing congressional Republicans and Democrats work with President Obama to advance trade opportunities that benefit American workers, farmers, ranchers and businesses.

Many Minnesota businesses have shared their perspectives with me to highlight the fact that their success is tied in part to trade. A Coon Rapids employer says that potential trade deals give the business a better opportunity to compete with global competitors. It employs 700 people with well-paying, high-tech jobs, but trade agreements mean lowering barriers overseas so the firm can grow and expand here at home. When Minnesota workers and businesses are provided with an opportunity to compete, they win.

Two potential trade deals are currently being negotiated. One, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, involves a high-standard agreement with our allies in Europe to reduce regulatory burdens that needlessly slow down the movement of goods and services. According to one prominent study, implementation of a trade deal with Europe would boost net employment in Minnesota by more than 15,000 jobs.

There's also the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which focuses on Asia and emerging markets around the Pacific Rim. Successfully linking the U.S. to this high-growth region will deliver more jobs, more choices and lower costs for American consumers.

A trade deal with Asia is also critical as China continues to try to write the rules for the world economy. Since 2002, Asian countries have completed 48 trade deals, but the U.S. has been party to only two of them. If we don't step up and lead through a trade agreement that reflects our values, China will fill that vacuum with its standards instead. There is a reason that Defense Secretary Ash Carter is outspoken in support of U.S. trade to the region — TPP will act as a counterbalance to Chinese influence in Asia and worldwide.

But in order to get the best trade deals for U.S. workers and small businesses, it's critical that Congress pass trade promotion authority (TPA). TPA, in one form or another, has been the norm for every president since Franklin Roosevelt.

TPA directs our trade negotiators on nearly 150 objectives that must be met in order for Congress to consider any deal. For instance, issues like labor standards, intellectual property rights and environmental protections all must be adequately addressed to ensure that American companies will compete on a level playing field. It also guarantees transparency so that the public can fully review any potential deal. In fact, current TPA legislation being considered by Congress would be the most transparent in history. Without it, negotiations are free to continue with the public in the dark.

Too often in Washington, the default setting is to do nothing. What happens if we fail to act on new trade opportunities? In a changing world, a lack of action means more opportunities for other countries. A passive America means we grow weaker while our competitors become stronger.

U.S. global leadership is at a crossroads. Before us is an opportunity to ensure that America sets the standards when it comes to our relationships with other countries. At the same time, helping U.S. businesses to sell to more consumers means growing a healthier economy here at home. It's time for America to act and move forward on trade.

Erik Paulsen, a Republican, represents Minnesota's Third District in the U.S. House.