China could find itself the odd man out as the world increasingly moves toward negotiated trade agreements, John Melle, assistant U.S. trade representative for the Western Hemisphere, said Thursday — the first day of Florida World Trade Month.
The United States is interested in negotiating comprehensive agreements, said Melle, with high standards and is trying to integrate China more with the world trading system.
But China, for example, has chosen not to join a negotiation currently under way on information technology, because it wants to protect some of its products, said Melle, who spoke at a WorldCity luncheon in Doral that kicked off trade month.
China has expressed interest in joining a proposed international trade agreement on services, but Melle said “there are very high standards for all members, including China” and that has prompted China to hesitate.
As a member of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, which has 21-member economies, China would be eligible to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed Asia-Pacific trade agreement now being negotiated among 12 nations.
But it has chosen not to join the TPP, said Melle, “in part because it has looked at the standards and found them very comprehensive.”
In Latin America, Melle is working on issues as diverse as preserving U.S. market access for Parmesan cheese and working toward a resolution with Brazil on U.S. cotton subsidies. In 2009, a World Trade Organization panel upheld a ruling in Brazil’s favor, saying it could take retaliatory measures against the United States over the cotton subsidies.
The United States said it could not immediately end its subsidy program because it depended on a new U.S. farm bill. To stave off trade retaliation against U.S. products, the United States has been paying Brazil $12.47 million a month until a remedy is reached. The much-delayed farm bill finally passed early this year, but Brazil says the congressional changes aren’t sufficient.
Melle said Congress did allow some space for negotiation with Brazil and he is hopeful that now the two nations will be able to “resolve the cotton issue once and for all.”
The luncheon was the first in a month of trade activities that include conferences, seminars and training opportunities, tours of cargo operations at airports and seaports, trade missions, and an international town hall meeting in Tampa.
The PortMiami tunnel, which will speed truck traffic to the port by avoiding congested downtown streets, also is scheduled to open this month.
In proclaiming Florida World Trade Month during May, Gov. Rick Scott noted that international business accounts for 17 percent of Florida’s economy and 60,000 businesses located in the state export goods or services. “The impact of international commerce on Florida’s economy cannot be overstated,” the governor said in his proclamation.
State Sen. Garrett Richter, a Republican from Naples, also has filed a Florida Chamber of Commerce-backed bipartisan resolution urging U.S. congressional support for the successful conclusion of negotiation of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the United States and European Union.
In 2012, trade with the EU accounted for nine percent of Florida’s exported goods. TTIP would cut tariffs as well as address other barriers to trade. The fifth round of EU-U.S. trade talks are scheduled to begin May 19.
World Trade Month comes at a time when commerce through the Miami Customs District is shrinking — although much of the decline is due to lower prices for gold.
According to a WorldCity analysis of U.S. Census data, trade through the Miami District, which includes airports and seaports from Palm Beach County south to Key West, was down 7.17 percent to $18.06 billion through February compared to the first two months of last year.
Miami District exports declined by 7.81 percent to $10.04 billion, while imports were down 6.36 percent to $8.02 billion. Brazil remained the district’s top trading partner, followed by Colombia, China, Costa Rica and Chile.
Gold imports of $914.64 million were down 13.05 percent but still good enough to top the district’s import list in January and February, according to WorldCity, a Coral Gables media and trade data company. But on the export side, gold exports fell 41.75 percent to $597.35 million to become the No. 4 export from the district.
Miami is a major hub for gold imports and exports, but prices of the precious metal have fallen dramatically since a high of $1,900 a troy ounce in the late summer of 2011 and a big slide in April 2013. The spot price of gold at Thursday’s close was $1,285.75 an ounce.
Trade with Costa Rica also was down 33.15 percent in January and February, falling to $978.57 million and already reflecting the impending closure of an Intel computer chip manufacturing plant in the Central American country.
“I would expect as it ramps down, it would have a substantial impact on our trade with Costa Rica,” said Melle.
U.S. trade with the world increased to $606.39 billion through the first two months of the year for a .77 percent uptick. Exports ($251.48 billion) climbed by 1.85 percent, while imports were up just .02 percent to $354.91 billion.