New trade agreement could help small- to mid-sized companies

Plan is said to cut red tape, help business expand into new markets

Whether it's Mac apple fruit or computers, there's a new initiative to help expand trade into some hard-to-reach markets. Demetrious Marantis of the U.S. Trade Department spoke to a room full of hopeful exporters Monday at an event hosted by Congressman Jerry McNerney (11th District) in San Ramon about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement.

Marantis said the plan could open markets for U.S. goods -- and especially goods from California -- in countries along the Pacific rim, including Vietnam and Singapore.

He said while many larger exporters are working to build business in those markets, the big growth in the next few years will be with small- to medium-sized companies.

"The Tri-Valley has great potential for economic growth," McNerney said. "It's critical that the many innovative businesses in our area have the information they need about export opportunities which will lead to expansion and job creation. During these tough economic times, it's more important than ever that we give local businesses the tools to succeed."

"I was glad to host today's event and provide local community and business leaders the chance to learn about these tools firsthand," he added.

And while California already has a big export economy, President Barrack Obama wants to double the country's exports in the next five years. Marantis said that means helping smaller companies overcome trade barriers that are keeping goods away from consumers overseas.

"There are so many opportunities to market there, particularly in the Asian-Pacific market, it's daunting to start," he told the 20 or so would-be exporters. "We have people who can hold your hand all along the way."

The new trade agreement is in its formative stages, and Marantis wants input from small- and medium-sized businesses in crafting the pact.

"The Trans-Pacific Partnership will require high standards," he said.

Those standards would include labor laws to prevent mass-producing products by paying workers low wages and provisions to ban "dumping" products in the United States -- selling for a price lower than they sell in their own market or even lower than the cost to make them in order to drive U.S. companies out of business. The agreement would reportedly guarantee transparency and cut red tape so that goods wouldn't be left on docks awaiting government approval.

Seven countries -- Australia, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, Peru and Vietnam -- are working with the U.S. to form the partnership, and other countries like Canada and Indonesia have expressed interest in joining. Marantis said that while trade between countries like New Zealand and Australia would seem to be open, there are sometimes tariffs hidden in other laws. He said, for example, parts of Australia with a large agricultural market ban American farm products even though other parts of Australia don't.

California already has a large export economy, sending nearly $3 billion in goods overseas in 2009, with two-thirds of that headed to countries in the Asian-Pacific market. Marantis pointed out that growth in exporting would create jobs which on pay almost 14 percent above average.

Companies interested in learning more on the agreement and how to export overseas can call 1-800-USA-TRADE.

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