Advocates: N.J. Stands To Gain As Free-Trade Talks Continues

Congress is expected to vote on the approval of three free-trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea on Wednesday, and New Jersey business advocates say the agreements would be a boon to manufacturers and service providers.

Debora Sykes, acting director of the Export Assistance Center for Central and Southern New Jersey, said manufacturers of computer products, chemicals and medical devices are positioned to benefit from a free-trade agreement, as well as architectural engineers and financial service firms.

“What it allows New Jersey companies is to be more competitive,” Sykes said. “Our hope is, if they’re more competitive overseas, they’ll be able to manufacture more products here in New Jersey and hire more people here.

“Imports are going to be here no matter what, so let’s make our companies more competitive to sell overseas,” Sykes said.

The agreements include reducing or removing trade barriers, including tariffs. According to the U.S. Trade Representative office, New Jersey could see exports increase by up to $11 billion in South Korea and $1.1 billion in Colombia. In 2010, New Jersey companies exported $32.2 billion worth of goods around the world.

“It allows our businesses to export on a much more level playing field than without having these trade agreements,” said Bob Loderstedt, president of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program.

Loderstedt said roughly 95 percent of manufacturers in the United States do not export, and “shame on us if we’re not taking advantage of the free-trade agreements.”

Both Sykes and Loderstedt said companies looking to begin or increase export activity have resources available to them through the Export Assistance Center and the MEP.

Loderstedt said manufacturing extension programs around the nation already have begun initiatives to help companies enter into exporting quickly and inexpensively. The New Jersey program is expected to roll out during the first quarter of 2012.

“Manufacturers in New Jersey and nationally are not educating themselves on the advantages to exporting and eliminating some of these myths in their minds,” he said.

“People want around the world U.S. products,” Sykes said. “They are perceived as the best, so they want our products. What the small to medium-size companies need is help promoting their products overseas.

“We’re available to help them take advantage of any opportunity in the world,” Sykes said.

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