NPR’s “A Nation Engaged” Coordinated Conversation project is looking at the topic of trade on the campaign trail, and in communities around the country.
As part of that project, this week on Florida Matters (Tuesday, April 19 at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday, April 24 at 7:30 a.m.), we feature a panel discussion on trade policy with Port Tampa Bay CEO Paul Anderson, Florida Small Business Development Center Regional Director Eileen Rodriguez and Michael Schiffhauer, the vice president of international trade and development for Enterprise Florida.
ANDERSON: My job is to create jobs, and be an economic developer for the West Central Florida and Central Florida region, and in that respect, we have over 80,000 jobs related to our port, and international trade, which we support, brings jobs to this region. Bottom line.
COOPER: Well, trade is good for the port, of course, but have we gone too far with free trade when it comes to the overall US economy, and especially employment?
ANDERSON: I think that we, as a nation, and our citizens, are part of a global economy. And for those that are sometimes misunderstanding what the reality of our world that we live in today, we at the port, we have teams that go all over the world to induce and attract jobs and companies to come and do business here at the port, and we really see the benefits of free trade agreements. We’ve supported CAFTA (Central America Free Trade Agreement), free trade with Panama, Korea, Colombia, and we’ve seen the benefits of new trade and new jobs because of those agreements.
COOPER: We spoke to Bob Spencer from West Coast Tomato Company in Palmetto recently, in Manatee County. He’s among those who feel the American dream is just about out of reach now for many people, thanks to a stagnant economy, and trade deals are doing nothing to help them get ahead.
SPENCER: I think across the country a lot people have been left behind because of free trade. A lot of professors can tell you, oh, this is good in the long run. But when you see the impact on human lives, it makes you pause to think well, maybe there is a better way.
COOPER: So, he says free trade is leaving workers in the country behind. Michael Schiffhauer, what about that?
SCHIFFHAUER: With free trade, we’ve seen commerce and trade grow at exponential levels that has actually really benefited the country and has not been as detrimental as we’re hearing politically and in most of these sound bites that we’re getting. I mean, yes, there are some issues. There’s some dislocation with some industries, and there’s a tremendous amount of worker training and support that needs to be given to any of those employees that do potentially lose their jobs so they can be re-employed. There’s definitely a need for that, but the overall gain in free trade, the net gain, is significantly better than if we went the reverse and went to more of a protectionist country mode.
COOPER: Eileen Rodriguez?
RODRIGUEZ: I agree that there are going to be some losses, but again, the overall is going to be a gain, I totally agree with Mike. We see that, we’ve seen that, with some of our other trade agreements -- for example with NAFTA – a lot of people have said that was utter chaos, and yet the numbers do support that after 10-15 years it has worked in our favor.
COOPER: So you don’t make the connection between the loss of manufacturing jobs since the early 1990s to NAFTA? You don’t think it’s NAFTA’s fault at all?
RODRIGUEZ: No, I don’t. I really think that what’s going to happen is that, again, long term, because this is not a short game – we have to really kind of look at the economy from a long-term point of view – and see that what’s going to happen is that it’s just going to strengthen us. Now, yes, in the short term, we are going to have a few losses. But if in the end it’s going to make us much stronger economically, then why wouldn’t we want to do that?
We want to know how trade deals have affected you and your family. Will trade policy influence your vote in the presidential election? We want to hear your thoughts.
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