U.S., Pacific Rim tackle trade issues

Steve Brown/Capital Press Demetrios Marantis, deputy U.S. trade representative

Ambassador outlines progress at trade conference

By STEVE BROWN

Capital Press

SEATTLE -- Negotiations between the U.S. and its Pacific Rim trade partners target both tariffs and discriminatory trade policies and enforcement issues, a top U.S. trade official says.

U.S. negotiators are working to make trade agreements better for small and medium-sized businesses by tackling the trade and investment barriers that hit them hardest, such as a lack of transparency and complex regulatory frameworks, Ambassador Demetrios Marantis said.

"We are seeking provisions to make the regulatory systems of the (Trans-Pacific Partnership) countries operate more seamlessly, and to break down behind-the-border barriers that increasingly hinder U.S. exports," he said.

Speaking at an event hosted by the Washington Council on International Trade, Marantis described the progress made over the past three years. As deputy U.S. trade representative, Marantis is responsible for trade negotiations and enforcement with the Asia-Pacific region.

That area represents 40 percent of global trade, he said, and is the destination for nearly 75 percent of total U.S. agricultural exports.

Marantis said the Trans-Pacific Partnership has been successful as a platform for integrating the Asia-Pacific region's interests. The nine partnership countries will be 11 if Canada and Mexico are accepted. Japan has also expressed interest in joining the partnership.

As trade agreements go into effect, U.S. agricultural producers will have key tariff advantages over other competitors, he said.

In countries such as Vietnam and Malaysia that have had a trade differential, "ag exporters will have a level playing field," he said.

Protection of intellectual property rights has been a sore spot for a long time, but he said the U.S. government has made progress particularly with China, which has committed to enforcing those rights.

"Significant challenges remain with China, and we must stay vigilant," Marantis said. "We are hopeful, though, that through candid dialogue, and by continuing to hold China accountable when it diverges from the norms of open and fair trade, China will see the value of moving much more assertively toward reform."

Mark Powers, with the Northwest Horticultural Council, described seeing rolls of the familiar Washington stickers being placed on Chinese apples.

"It's flattering on one hand, but we're very concerned," he said. That practice could have significant food safety issues, with the U.S. being blamed for someone else's contaminated products.

"There's no solution yet," he said.

The Pacific is not the only focal point for U.S. trade. Marantis quoted his boss, Ron Kirk, the U.S. trade representative: "We're going wherever the customers are to help U.S. businesses of every size compete and win in world markets."

The U.S. has enhanced its trade relationship with the European Union, and the administration is working with Congress to extend permanent trade relations status to Russia as it joins the World Trade Organization.

And trade and investment initiatives have begun in Africa, which Marantis called "home to some of the fastest-growing economies in the world."

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