Posted: 12:05 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013

Portman warns on new Pacific nation trade treaty

By Steve Bennish

Staff Writer

Sen. Rob Portman on Friday met with United Auto Workers and management at Ford’s Sharonville Transmission Plant to talk about a proposed trade agreement that has the recovering auto sector on high alert.

Portman, a member of the Senate Finance Committee and former U.S. Trade Representative, said he’ll sign a letter endorsing currency manipulation protections in trade negotiations such as those underway in the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership, an international trade agreement that’s prompted alarms from a wide range of critics. The letter is being sent from the U.S. Senate to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and U.S. Trade Representative Mike Froman. It’s being led by Senators Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, and Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina.

“On a level playing field, American auto workers can go toe-to-toe with anybody and win,” Portman said. “Sometimes, that leads some of our competitors to try and cheat to get ahead. I heard those concerns from the auto workers I met with today.”

He added: “I’m convinced that exports are vital to the health of the auto industry, but we have to hold other countries accountable when they skirt trade rules. And that includes countries that manipulate their currency to disadvantage American workers. We need to make sure that our trade negotiators take these currency issues seriously as they seek to lower barriers to American exports.”

On Aug. 22, Portman’s visited Ford’s Brook Park plant in Cleveland where he met with union officials. He’s also spoken to the Senate Finance Committee, where he called attention to persistent barriers that block U.S. auto exports to Japan.

Portman said Froman should ensure that eliminating these barriers is a priority during negotiations with Japan.

Portman said the three largest domestic automobile producers, Chrysler, Ford and General Motors, employ more than 20,000 Ohioans and each have endorsed currency manipulation protections in the trade pact negotiations, along with the United Steelworkers. “These currency protections are also supported by domestic steel producers with Ohio operations including Nucor and ArcelorMittal,” Portman said.

What is the TPP?

The TPP, or Trans-Pacific Partnership, could involve 12 or more nations in an Asia-Pacific “Free Trade Area” including Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam. There’s talk that China could join, too.

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