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New markets open possibilities for everyone

COURTESY PORTLAND BUSINESS ALLIANCE - Debbie KitchinIn recent weeks, we have seen growing public discussion about two proposals currently before Congress: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement and Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is a key negotiator on both pieces of legislation, which also have President Obama’s strong backing. I’d like to offer a perspective on why the TPA and TPP are essential for the economic prosperity and vitality of our state, and even important to small businesses like mine, which you wouldn’t typically think are connected to trade.

But first, the background.

Renewal of the TPA must come first. Created by Congress in 1974, Trade Promotion Authority is power granted by Congress to the president to negotiate and sign trade pacts such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPA expired in 2007 and must be renewed.

The TPP — Trans-Pacific Partnership — is a proposed trade agreement among the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, Malaysia, Darussalam, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Mexico, Singapore, Vietnam and Brunei, a list that includes eight of Oregon’s 12 largest export destinations. The TPP has the potential to greatly expand Oregon’s trade with new markets, reaching new customers, primarily in Asia. As President Obama recently stated, 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside the U.S. That makes global trade legislation something we cannot afford to postpone if Oregon is to stake a competitive claim in a rapidly evolving marketplace.

Trade is a regional strength. In 2014, Oregon exported $21 billion in products to markets in every corner of the world. Our workers and farmers produce the most sophisticated, sought-after and high-quality products available, and it is a source of pride that our small state plays such an outsized role in driving our nation’s exports. According to public opinion research conducted by DHM Research for the Portland Business Alliance, 90 percent of voters surveyed in the Portland region felt it important for Oregon’s elected leaders to support the development of international trade. In addition, 62 percent said increasing the promotion of Oregon products abroad to open up and expand markets should be prioritized.

That voter support for trade exists for good reason. Trade brings revenue and family-wage jobs to businesses of all sizes and sectors. In fact, according to the Alliance’s Value of Jobs reports on trade, about 90 percent of Oregon exporters are small- to medium-sized businesses. Plus almost half a million jobs in the state are tied directly or indirectly to trade, and trade-related jobs, on average, pay nearly 20 percent more than those not connected to trade.

It also seems to me that trade should play a key role in our equity agenda. Many of our key trade-related industries are manufacturers, and we know that manufacturing jobs, on average, pay more than non-manufacturing jobs. In fact, a Value of Jobs look at manufacturing found that people of color and people who don’t speak English at home earn 50 percent more in manufacturing jobs — and those jobs frequently provide a path out of poverty for less advantaged families. So if we are serious about pursuing an equity agenda in this region, promoting trade has to be part of it.

The ripple effect across the economy is significant. Trade-based companies rely on local service providers like contractors and suppliers, and their workers buy houses and cars, and shop and eat in local establishments. And sometimes they remodel, which is where my business, InterWorks, LLC, comes in. I know that a lot of my customers work for companies that are directly related to trade. If they didn’t have those jobs — and those paychecks — they wouldn’t be coming to me to remodel their houses. So I — and the people who work for my small business — benefit from trade.

The TPP could expand the possibilities of Oregon’s trade-based economy even further, growing more jobs. Countries in the TPP make up 48 percent of Oregon’s exports, and they are a source of important foreign direct investment for our state: more than 145 companies from the TPP nations have a presence in Oregon, employing thousands of workers. With the new legislation, that presence can only grow.

I have written my congressional representatives asking them to support the TPA and the TPP. I hope you will as well.

Debbie Kitchin is an owner of

InterWorks, LLC, a general contracting firm located in Portland’s Central Eastside. She chairs the Portland Business Alliance Board of Directors and is president of the Central Eastside Industrial Council.