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Trade pact touted as gold mine for Mississippi exporters

By JACK WEATHERLY 

Foreign trade accounts for one in five Mississippi jobs, growing them at six times the overall jobs creation rate in the state.

That’s the take from the Business Roundtable, composed of executives of corporations around the country.

Now the U.S. Commerce Department has some more eye-popping figures.

The 11 countries that the United States would join in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which awaits final approval by its respective member governments, already accounted for nearly 38 percent of Mississippi’s exports in 2014.

“By eliminating more than 18,000 tariffs on ‘Made-in-America’ products sold overseas, the TPP will make it possible for more of our high-quality goods and services to reach some of the world’s fastest-growing markets,” Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said in a release.

The 12 nations that would be partners are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

Negotiators for those nations finalized a 30-chapter document in early October. The treaty has received mixed reviews among Democratic and Republican hopefuls for president. It can be read online at https://ustr.gov/tpp/

U.S. News & World Report magazine said that “while Congress has never voted down a deal struck under fast-track parameters, the opposition of both parties’ outside wings – which have become increasingly vocal in congressional politics and the presidential campaign – poses a significant challenge for Obama as he tries to secure what would be a signature accomplishment.”

The Mississippi Development Authority and the Mississippi Agriculture and Commerce Department did not respond to numerous efforts over several days to get comments for this article.

Among other provisions, the federal Commerce Department said, the treaty calls for elimination of “the use of agricultural export subsidies” by foreign nations and includes steps to “ensure food safety,”

U.S. catfish producers – led by Mississippi – have been in a years-long battle with exports of catfish from eastern Asia.

Vietnam raises its catfish to standards below those in the United States and gets government subsidies which allows it to dump its fish on the U.S. market at unfair prices, the domestic industry argues.

While Vietnam may be a trade foe for catfish producers in Mississippi, it is the biggest customer for Hattiesburg-based Bio-Soil Enhancers.

The company makes a product called Sumagrow, which balances and stabilizes the fertility of soil.

Sean McKeehan, director of registration, compliance and operations for Bio-Soil, said Tuesday that “anything that would ease trade sanctions is . . . in our favor.”

Wayne Wade, president of the company, said at an export summit sponsored by the MDA in May, that “had we not gone international, I don’t think we’d be here today.”

At the summit, Gov. Phil Bryant touted the successes of the agency’s export program, which assists businesses, including overseas trips, such as one to Israel last week.

Even without the Trans-Pacific Treaty, Mississippi exports to those 11 nations totaled $4.3 billion last year, according to the Commerce Department.

The U.S. trade deficit through September increased 3.9 percent over the year-earlier period, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Domestic exports were down $66.3 billion, or 3.8 percent.

The strong U.S. dollar makes the country’s goods and services unattractive to foreign importers and consequently puts pressure on jobs creation in the United States.

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