Tami Overby dropped by the Portland law firm Preti Flaherty on Friday to talk about the Asia trade pact that is awaiting ratification.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership – or TPP as it is generally known – is a trade agreement among the U.S. and 11 other countries that removes tariffs, creating more business opportunities for exporters and importers. Plenty of industries are watching closely how this trade agreement will play out because – depending on your point of view – it will open new markets to U.S. goods, or it will cause job losses in manufacturing sectors here.

Overby, an Asia specialist in the International Affairs Division with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has been advocating for this trade agreement for years and is refreshingly candid about it. While conceding that it is not a perfect agreement, she says its real benefit is helping developing nations enter a shifting global economy. And that’s where everyone’s future lies.

“Ninety-five percent of the world is outside our borders,” said Overby. “The reality is for American companies that want to grow, they need to trade with those people.”

Looking beyond export and import opportunities, the pact creates significant environmental standards that all participating countries must adhere to, and it creates a mechanism for resolving disputes so that the TPP will have teeth. Those two initiatives make the TPP different from many previous trade agreements, said Overby.

“We are nobody’s No. 1 trade partner in Asia anymore,” she said. “We can’t dictate anymore, we have to persuade.”

And here’s something fun: If you’re curious about what the impact would be on a certain product in a certain country, export.gov has a tariff search function that lets you explore. For instance, U.S. lobster exports to South Korea carry a 20 percent base rate tariff. Under the TPP, that tariff would be reduced to zero this year. U.S. athletic footwear exports to Japan carry a 27 percent tariff that is incrementally reduced to zero over 16 years. Copy paper exported to Malaysia carries a 20 percent tariff now and would go to zero after six years.

As for the TPP’s role in the presidential election, Overby just shakes her head. She said “people who know better” are distorting information to appease voting blocs, an activity Overby calls “appalling.”

U.S. Chamber observers have taken to calling the candidates’ rhetoric a “fact-free zone,” she said.

NAVIGATING MARKET GROWTH

Some good news came this week to Chimani, the Portland company that develops mobile apps to guide visitors through the country’s national parks.

The company received a “Pioneer” award from Outside magazine in the May issue, which is dedicated to celebrating the National Park Service’s centennial.

Even better, the company expects to complete its suite of apps for all 59 national parks by June 1. The free apps allow users to navigate hiking trails, points of interest, auto tours, ranger events, park facilities and more, with GPS-enabled offline maps, meaning that once fully installed, they do not require a WiFi or cellular connection, according to a news release from Chimani.

“Chimani had more than 1.5 million user sessions last year, yet I would say we’ve tapped only about 5 percent of the market. To be blunt, if we don’t get this right, we’re talking about the death of the park system,” CEO Kerry Gallivan told Outside magazine. “If people don’t have a positive experience in the parks, they’re not invested in the concept. We want to make sure that when you go to a park, you walk away thinking it’s 10 times better than Disneyland. That ultimately translates into legislation that will impact future generations.”

The company’s flagship national park app also was selected by Google Play on Friday to be featured in the outdoor section of the Google Play Store.

SEMICONDUCTORS SAFE?

Still wondering where those 900 to 1,500 jobs that the governor expects we’ll lose are going to come from? So are we.

But Betsy Van Hees, an analyst for Wedbush who specializes in the semiconductor industry, says it’s unlikely that Maine semiconductor companies are in the cross-hairs.

Van Hees said there’s a lot of merger and acquisition activity worldwide with semiconductor companies because demand for digital circuitry is growing and the cost to build new plants is prohibitive. Companies that want to grow are doing so by buying up rivals, which is the case with ON Semiconductor’s bid to buy Fairchild. A deadline to finalize that $2.4 billion deal has been pushed to May 12.

“It’s so difficult to grow organically because it’s so costly to go out and build a new facility,” said Van Hees.

There could be layoffs because of redundant positions in a merger, but it would be very unlikely for a company to pull out entirely. Fairchild employs more than 500 people locally.

Van Hees said chipmakers also are not generally big energy users, so the governor’s declaration that the impending job losses are because of available cheap energy in China doesn’t ring true.

“Cheap energy is usually not an issue” with semiconductor manufacturers, said Van Hees.

She said it’s likely regulators will finish scrutinizing the ON bid to buy Fairchild by June.

Business Editor Carol Coultas can be contacted at 791-6460 or at:

[email protected]


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