Proposed trade pact with Asia produces hope, fear among Ohio manufacturers

Youngstown Vindicator

Fearful that the United States may be brushed aside and overshadowed by China in Asian and South Pacific markets, the Obama administration last November moved to embrace a new trade agreement with several countries there, creating both concern and optimism within the U.S. manufacturing industry.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Act aims to create a free-trade group with countries such as Vietnam, New Zealand and Malaysia, among others. An early outline for the agreement calls for retaining high-quality American jobs by increasing U.S. exports to a region of expanded growth that accounts for more than 40 percent of global trade.

The parameters of the final agreement will have many implications for Ohio, where in 2010, 27 percent of manufacturing jobs depended on exports to trans-Pacific markets, said Mousa Kassis, an international trade adviser at Williamson College of Business at Youngstown State University.

Heavy machinery, agricultural products and chemical equipment were a few of the products exported to Asia and the South Pacific by Ohio manufacturers, who employed 371,000 people to meet demand in 2010. 

“Many of the countries in that region and in Southeast Asia wanted a U.S. partnership in order to face Chinese advancement,” Kassis said. “However, from an economic standpoint, many here feel that these sorts of agreements always lead to a loss of manufacturing jobs. Usually, outsourcing is the fear.”

Like other free trade agreements designed to promote economic growth, the Trans-Pacific Partnership would ostensibly improve market competition. Many experts believe the underlying goal is to reduce China’s footprint and help the U.S. and other countries taking part in the negotiations to increase their exports.

Still, others contend that such agreements place undue pressure on U.S. manufacturers who are forced to compete with the lower labor and environmental standards of foreign countries that enter free-trade deals.

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Proposed trade pact with Asia produces hope, fear among Ohio manufacturers »