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COURTESY WHITE HOUSE - Puralytics CEO Mark Owen decided to work for passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership after meeting President Obama at the Nike campus in May.Mark Owen believes his Beaverton technology company can save more lives around the world if Congress approves the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.


Owen is CEO of Puralytics, which designs and manufactures affordable products for using sunlight to purify contaminated water. His bags, bottles and floating devices are commonly shipped to developing countries and areas hit by natural disasters around the world.

“Some countries recognize them as humanitarian products and don’t charge tariffs, but others charge tariffs and still others don’t seem to know what to do. The treaty will eliminate all tariffs and help us double the sales of our water purification systems,” says Owen, who currently employs about a dozen people.

Owen is so convinced of the benefits of the TPP, as it is commonly called, that he has joined Oregon Jobs Through Trade, a coalition of businesses in the state formed to push the U.S. House and Senate to approve it. It includes more than 30 Oregon companies, ranging from such large ones as Nike to other small ones like Ruffwear, which makes clothing and accessories for dogs.

COURTESY PURALYTICS/MATT HARTZELL - Courtesy Puralytics/Matt HartzellThe Obama Administration publicly released the terms of the proposed treaty between the United State and 11 other international trading partners on Friday, kicking off a 90-day countdown to the votes.

But Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain says approval of the treaty will prompt state employers to outsource jobs to countries that pay less.

“If the TPP is approved by Congress, it will ship good-paying, family-wage Oregon jobs overseas, and will lower wages in jobs that are left, increasing inequality by forcing Oregonians into competition with workers abroad paid less than 65 cents an hour,” says Chamberlain, whose umbrella labor organization has joined a coalition against the treaty that include environmental groups such as the Oregon Sierra Club.

The Portland Business Alliance took a cautious but hopeful approach.

“We’re glad the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership is now available as a way to move this important public discussion forward. We look forward to working with many trade-focused organizations in Oregon and across the country to review the language and ensure it meets our objectives to maintain and grow a strong regional economy and family-wage jobs,” said PBA President and CEO Sandra McDonough. “We’ve long said that a high-standard trade agreement covering nearly 40 percent of the world economy is something we support. Too often trading partners implement tariff and non-tariff barriers, which deny market entry or a level playing field for Oregon-made products and services. To the degree the TPP overcomes these obstacles, it has the potential to be a game changer for our workers, farmers and companies.”

The split in Oregon reflects the national fight over the TPP that has been building for years. Even before the treaty text was released, many business organizations supported it and many unions, environmental groups and social justice organizations opposed it. It had also become an issue in the Democratic presidential election, with Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders coming out against it before the negotiations were finished and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joining him before the text was released.

Supporters say its passage will boost the economy by reducing trade barriers and increasing trade within 40 percent of the global market.

“The TPP agreement is the largest free-trade agreement in history, and it will not only save American families hundreds of millions of dollars on tariffs and taxes, but it will open foreign markets and level the playing field for American businesses. Every member of Congress and their constituents now have the opportunity to read the text of the TPP agreement in its entirety. Retailers look forward to educating consumers and Congress on the benefits of free trade in the months ahead,” said Hun Quach, vice president of international trade of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, which includes more than 200 retailers, product manufacturers and service suppliers.

But opponents charge it will reduce American jobs and harm the poor and the environment in developing countries.

“The TPP proposal represents a big step backwards on environmental protection. Shockingly, the TPP only includes enforcement mechanisms for one of the seven environmental treaties covered by Bush-era trade agreements. Worse still, the TPP is full of dangerous provisions that would arm corporate polluters with new tools for attacking future climate regulations,” said Andy Maggi, director of the Oregon Sierra Club.

Oregon has already played a major role in the debate. As one of the most trade-dependent states in the nation, it includes many of the business leaders who have been working with the Obama administration in support of the TPP. Obama personally visited the Nike campus in Beaverton on May 8 to push for the treaty, which is where Owen met him and decided to begin working for its passage.

More than that, Oregon U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden has been instrumental in moving the TPP through the process. He was the Democratic co-sponsor of the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation that had to pass to allow Congress to vote on the treaty. He also cosponsored the Trade Priorities and Accountability Act (TPAA) that required the Obama Administration to release the text — which had been negotiated in secret — at the beginning of the vote countdown.

Wyden insists the TPAA will increase environmental and labor protection in the other countries that sign the treaty. Despite that, he did not immediately endorse it after the text was released. Instead, he issued a statement that said, “I look forward to digging into the details of what was released today. In the days and weeks ahead I will be talking with Oregon workers, farmers and ranchers, manufacturers and innovators to learn about what this agreement will do for them. I fought hard to make this day happen and ensure every word of the TPP is public for every American to read months before the president signs, and even longer before Congress votes on the agreement. Creating new transparency in trade agreements is essential for trade done right.”

Technically, the TPP is an expansion of the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPSEP or P4), which was signed by Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore in 2005. Additional countries joined the discussion for a broader agreement in 2008. They included Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, the United States and Vietnam, bringing the total number of participating countries in the negotiations to 12.

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