Former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and State Economic Development Commissioner Katie Clark Sieben gave their support Thursday to a White House push for a new trade deal with Asia, arguing that small businesses and manufacturing jobs in Minnesota are on the line.
Rybak said on a conference call with reporters that the city has been emphasizing exports since the beginning of the Obama administration and has helped several businesses start exporting.
“The last thing we need right now is to send the message that the country is not open for business around the globe,” Rybak said on a call arranged by the White House. “The best thing for small business in Minneapolis, and I would say the whole state, is to keep doing what the federal government has done, and that’s to break down barriers.”
Jeff Zients, director of the White House National Economic Council, said China is actively negotiating trade agreements by “a different set of rules,” not pushing for the same standards on wages, workplace safety and the environment that the American government would require of trade partners. That’s why it’s crucial for the U.S. to get a Trans-Pacific Partnership deal approved, he said.
“There’s a lot at stake here, and right now the rules of the road in some of the highest growth markets, like Asia, are up for grabs,” Zients said. “If we don’t take the lead, we risk ceding leadership to other countries, to leave our workers at a disadvantage.”
The fate of the Trans-Pacific trade agreement will test whether the White House and Congress can work together even on issues where there is broad agreement. Free trade is one of the few areas of agreement for President Obama and Republican leadership, but labor leaders and Democratic lawmakers fear that the Trans-Pacific deal, which would include about 40 percent of global economic activity, could cost U.S. workers jobs and wages.
Obama needs Congress to give him authority to send a trade deal to Congress to either be passed or rejected, but not amended. Such authority, known as trade promotion authority, has been given to every president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, but Obama still lacks it.
Minnesota’s exports of merchandise rose to $21.4 billion in 2014, and U.S. exports of goods and services grew to $2.35 trillion, both records.
Clark Sieben said 106,000 statewide jobs are supported by exporting, most of them manufacturing positions. Exports support about one in three manufacturing jobs in Minnesota, she said, and Minnesota’s manufacturing sector are growing at twice the rate of the national manufacturing sector.
Rather than all big companies, some 87 percent of exporting companies in Minnesota have fewer than 500 employees.
“Thousands of small and medium-sized businesses are exporters in Minnesota,” she said.
Detailed 2014 export data for Minnesota will be released in the next week or so.
Meanwhile, Obama’s administration is trying to make the case for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The deal has the support of GOP lawmakers like Paul Ryan.
Critics argue the pact could weaken the position of American workers and widen America’s trade deficit.