With trade talks in town, Reed, mayors thump for TPP deal

By the numbers:

• 14,000: The number of Georgia companies that exported goods in 2013.

• 150,000: The estimated number of jobs supported by export and import activity in Atlanta metro region.

• 360,000: The estimated number of jobs related to export and import activity at the Savannah port.

Source: Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration/The Office of the United States Trade Representative

With trade representatives from around the globe convening in Atlanta this week, Mayor Kasim Reed joined a host of other U.S. mayors Thursday to call for conclusion to years-long negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

At stake is a behemoth 12-nation trade deal that the Obama administration has argued will make easier for U.S. companies to export goods globally, and, therefore, create jobs. But opponents have blasted the pending agreement as secretive and a threat to U.S. labor standards and wages.

The so-called TPP deal would set rules affecting how much Americans pay for imports, how easily U.S. companies can sell products overseas, environmental and labor protections — and how it all would be enforced.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman joined Reed, Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Columbia, S.C. Mayor Steven Benjamin on a tour of Colgate Mattress Atlanta Corp. in Cabbagetown on Thursday.

Froman said Colgate — a family-owned manufacturer of crib mattresses — is “emblematic” of the need for a free trade pact with Asia partners. He noted that 98 percent of U.S. companies that export are small and medium size businesses, as are many in Atlanta.

“It’s those incremental exports that allow businesses like Colgate to add jobs, to pay better wages, to expand their operations. And that’s why it’s so important that we get these agreements done,” said Froman, who didn’t take questions from reporters.

The negotiationstaking place at the Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel pick up from talks in Hawaii last July. Officials are hoping to reach a deal this week after five years of talks.

Reed — a staunch supporter of President Barack Obama’s initiatives — said he believes the pact is key to growing exports and strengthening the country’s share of the global market.

“Businesses that engage in exports have a higher chance of survival and they pay higher wages,” he said. “At the end of the day, all of this is about folks having a job that gives them some dignity and allows them to support their families.”

Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry, Georgia AFL-CIO’s communications director, has myriad concerns with the potential deal, namely that it will benefit CEOs and not workers.

“Once TPP passes, it could last indefinitely. And other countries can join it without limit or oversight by the public or Congress,” he said. He fears that TPP “is a global race to the bottom, the bottom in environmental standards, the bottom in labor and wage standards.”

His sentiments were echoed by hundreds of protesters, a cross-section of environmental, consumer watchdog and labor union groups, in separate rallies Thursday.

Colgate’s Vice President Richard Wolkin, who beamed as he walked the mayors through the factory his family has owned for about 60 years, admitted some worry about the pending deal. He’d like to expand his international trade, but is mindful of what impact the TPP will have on imports and his operations.

“Our wages are higher, our overheads are higher, and even more importantly our regulations are definitely stricter. We have undergone massive changes in those areas and those challenges,” he said.

Asked his prediction for whether TPP will be a boon for Colgate: “I can’t answer whether it will, in fact, be better for us or not.”