A long-awaited report on natural gas exports was finally released by the Department of Energy (DOE) last week. Unsurprisingly, it concluded that exporting natural gas would bring a net economic benefit to the U.S. economy, with most benefits being realized as economies of scale in gas production increase.

With the benefits of free trade—both imports and exports—so obvious, the necessity of this report is questionable. More than a dozen liquefied natural gas (LNG) export projects across the nation have been delayed because of it. In order to export LNG to non-free-trade-agreement countries, companies must get approval from the DOE, approvals that the Obama Administration refused to issue until the release of this report.

The International Energy Agency recently predicted that by the mid-2020s the U.S. would surpass Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest energy producer. If the U.S. doesn’t start legalizing the exports of its energy resources—both oil and natural gas—it will have squandered an opportunity to capitalize on billions of energy consumers across the world. As emerging market automobile use explodes and Japan switches from nuclear to natural gas power, the U.S. should put itself in a position to take advantage of these opportunities.

This foot-dragging on sensible trade policies simply confirms the true lack of leadership on trade issues in the United States. According to The Heritage Foundation’s forthcoming 2013 Index of Economic Freedom, trade freedom in the U.S. has stagnated since 2011 because of slow implementation of trade pacts with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea, as well as the obvious stonewalling on natural gas exports. It’s time for a change: Trade should again be at the top of the policy agenda.

Now that the DOE has had its say on natural gas exports, it’s time for the Administration to start approving the export projects that U.S. companies have been waiting on for months. If exports are critical to “winning the future,” as the Administration claims, then expediting these approvals just seems like plain common sense.