U.S. Trade Rep. Michael Froman speaks to the media about the Trans-Pacific Partnership after a tour of the Port of Long Beach. Photo by Stephanie Rivera.
Standing in front of one of the Port of Long Beach’s “smaller” ships, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman made a case for the Trans-Pacific Partnership at a press conference Tuesday morning, asserting that the recently completed trade agreement would benefit the region through more jobs at competitive wages.
“We know that for every billion dollars we export, it supports 5,000 to 7,000 jobs in the U.S. and those jobs pay up to 18 percent more on average than non export-related jobs,” Froman said. “So we could open markets abroad, increase our exports, support more jobs here, but more good-paying jobs as well, and it's a win-win for everybody.”
California exports about $175 billion a year, which supports 750,000 jobs in the state, according to Froman, and $75 billion of that amount comes through the Los Angeles/Long Beach port complex. In the Los Angeles area about 35,000 businesses export and 96 percent of them are small and medium-size businesses, he added.
The TPP agreement, published in early November, includes the participation of 12 countries representing about 40 percent of the global economy, according to trade officials. Those parties include Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, United States, Vietnam, Chile, Brunei, Singapore, New Zealand.
As part of the agreement, American companies would benefit through the elimination of 18,000 taxes imposed on American imports to the Asia-Pacific.
Currently, the U.S. faces 70 percent tariffs on auto exports and hundreds of percent tariffs on some agricultural products that go through the POLB, Froman said. In addition, 80 percent of what the U.S. imports from TPP countries already come tariff-free, he added.
The TPP would also raise labor and environmental standards in other countries, leveling the playing field for Americans, trade officials said.
“Other countries have the obligation to adopt what we call port-state measures, which are measures to protect the marine environment, the kind of measures that the Port of Long Beach (POLB) has already implemented,” Froman said.
In addition, U.S. businesses investing abroad would be ensured protection against discrimination through the TPP’s Investor-State Dispute Settlement. It would not, however, allow corporations to override laws, including environmental and public health regulations.
“What we’ve done for TPP is raise the standard by adding more safeguards in terms of how Investor-State Dispute Settlement can be used,” Froman said. “Making it clear, for example, that investors can't sue because they have disappointed expectations on profits but they can only sue on very limited set of grounds having to do with whether governments have taken actions to effectively expropriate their investment.”
Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), questioned the agreement’s proposed trade relations with developing countries, citing labor policies and human rights issues as areas of concern.
Lowenthal, who represents Little Saigon in Westminster—which has the highest concentration of Vietnamese-American residents of any city in the U.S.—said constituents also voiced concerns about importing from Vietnam, which has human rights issues.
“There are no independent labor unions in Vietnam,” Lowenthal said. “They say there’s going to be, but there is no real enforcement about that in [the agreement]. It would take legal action by the United States."
Lowenthal said he didn't know if legal action was the "best way to go about doing it," and that he'd have to be "convinced that this [the TPP] is right."
Some of the port’s harbor commissioners were also present at the conference, though they stopped short of expressing full support for the agreement.
Commission President Lori Ann Guzmán said commissioners are still reviewing the legislation and monitoring discourse at the congressional level.
“We remain optimistic that this is going to be a good thing for the country but we’ll continue to monitor it as it develops,” she said.
“We are thankful the president is interested in trade,” said Garcia, who has publicly stated support for the TPP. “We’re thankful the president is active in ensuring that we have the dollars to fund large projects like the Gerald Desmond Bridge.”
Froman said officials will now focus on getting the bipartisan support needed in Congress for the agreement to move forward.
This story was updated at 11:15PM to reflect Mayor Robert Garcia's support for the agreement. A previous version stated he did not express full support.