S.C. small businesses urged to back trade pact


Top U.S. trade official Penny Pritzker came to Columbia Friday to make the case that small businesses in South Carolina should favor a controversial Asian-Pacific trade agreement.

About 6,000 businesses across the state export goods to the international market, Commerce Secretary Pritzker said, and about 85 percent of those businesses are small or medium-size.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, described by some as the most significant trade agreement in a generation, is an enormous free trade deal between the U.S., Canada and 10 Asian-Pacific nations that is basically complete after nearly 10 years of negotiations. Congress is debating whether to give President Obama fast track authority to commit the U.S. to aspects of the trade deal.

“What we know is that about 96 percent of the world’s customers live outside the United States, and what’s important for our businesses to maintain their growth and their viability, is that we need more of our companies from South Carolina to sell more of their goods overseas,” Pritzker said.

Exports have been critical to the economic growth of the country, to job creation and to South Carolina, noted Pritzker, who was accompanied by 6th District Congressman Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., and Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin.

The trade deal has opposition in Congress, among potential 2016 presidential candidates and from organized labor largely on the grounds the deal would be detrimental to middle-class American workers and cost U.S. jobs.

While the average tariff on goods coming into the U.S. is about 1.4 percent, Pritzker said, American companies looking to sell in Asia face tariffs ranging from 83 percent on automotive products, to a 70 percent on machine products, 35 percent on chemical goods, and 10 percent to 400 percent on agricultural goods.

“We must ensure that American companies can enter foreign markets on fair terms” Pritzker said, noting the middle class in affected Asian-Pacific nations will grow from 500 million people to about 3.2 billion in the next 15 to 20 years.

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