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Paulsen stresses benefits of international trade

Rep. Erik Paulsen

Rep. Erik Paulsen

U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen doesn’t want negative sentiment on trade to fill what he calls a “vacuum” surrounding two international trade deals waiting for congressional and diplomatic action. Nor does he want negative talk to hamper Minnesota businesses from pursuing more overseas commerce.

Paulsen, an Eden Prairie Republican running for re-election in Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional District, took the Minnesota trade temperature Tuesday with input from two dozen local business people at a roundtable in Bloomington.

What he learned is that trade-reliant businesses want international agreements in place that not only spare them high import tariffs, but also level the playing field when it comes to expensive certifications and protecting intellectual property.

“Despite the rhetoric going on around trade today, the benefits of trade to Minnesota have never been greater and more important than what I’m advocating and pushing for right now,” he said.

Paulsen said he held the event to collect real-life anecdotes from Minnesota companies that he will use in future town hall meetings.

In his opening comments, Paulsen addressed the stalled ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership in Congress and continuing negotiations of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the U.S. and the European Union.

The Pacific trade deal has been waiting for a ratification vote in Congress since 12 Pacific Rim nations, including the United States, signed onto it in February. It has President Barack Obama’s support, but presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have said they oppose the deal.

Paulsen, who serves on the House Ways & Means committee and co-chairs the House T-TIP caucus, said he wants to see the Pacific Rim trade pact approved before a new president takes office. He believes Congress will pass it and that Obama will sign off on the ratification.

A lame duck approval is his preferred scenario for TPP. Paulsen said he suspects that Hillary Clinton would prefer that Obama sign the bill. Trump “may not feel the same way,” he said.

“If we have a vote on TPP, we don’t want it to fail,” he said.

Paulsen acknowledged that trade agreements can be controversial. Roundtable attendee Sandra Renner, CEO of St. Paul-based FasTrack Global Expansion Solutions, said some of that controversy comes from the fear that trade deals send U.S. jobs overseas.

In her experience, she said, it is the absence of trade agreements that costs jobs. Renner said she has spoken to some people in rural Minnesota communities who object to such agreements for that reason. She does not agree.

“It’s interesting that they’re sort of against the trade agreements, but they don’t realize that their jobs are going away in those communities because their companies are not remaining competitive with technologies and investing in the markets,” she said.

Ryan Kanne, director of the Minneapolis office of the U.S. Commercial Service, said part of the resistance to trade agreements stems from a lack of information about how much of Minnesota’s products and services have an international market. He attended Tuesday’s event as one of the co-organizers along with the Minnesota District Export Council.

“Do the people that are manufacturing the products, the widgets — or if they’re a service company — do they realize what they’re producing is dependent on trade?” said Kanne, whose employer is under the U.S. Commerce Department.

Fred Dawe, general counsel for New Brighton machine communications hardware maker Comtrol, said his company is particularly vulnerable to overseas certifications requirements due to its small size.

“They say, ‘We really like your product but we just need this certification,’” said Dawe, who supports trade agreements. “But that’s really expensive and we don’t have the cash for that. We’re a really small company.”

Well-negotiated trade agreements could help make his company’s existing certifications work in overseas markets, broadening the market for Comtrol products.

Paulsen said trade was the saving grace for the Minnesota economy during the recession and is connected to 800,000 jobs in the state. But it has room for growth in Minnesota, he said, as 80 percent of the world’s purchasing power resides outside the U.S.

Minnesota exports slipped slightly in the first quarter. The state’s export trade fell 5.2 percent to $4.6 billion from the same quarter in 2015, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. Exports for all of 2015 were also down, dropping 7 percent from 2014 to $20 billion.

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