Matt Priest believes the Trans-Pacific Partnership could benefit West Michigan, and he will be in West Michigan this week to explain why.
The president of the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America will speak to corporate members of the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan on Oct. 5 to present, “Beyond The Presidential Race Rhetoric of Trade Agreements,” while focusing on the TPP.
The TPP would eliminate more than 18,000 taxes and barriers across the U.S., Australia, Canada, Vietnam, Japan, Chile, Malaysia, Brunei, Mexico, Singapore, Peru and New Zealand.
Priest said while much of the discussion of the TPP has been negative on the surface, it’s largely driven by negative political rhetoric from the election cycle. Prior to his role at the FDRA, Priest worked at the U.S. Department of Commerce during the George W. Bush administration.
“(Oct. 5) will be a really cool opportunity and an effective way to talk about trade to West Michigan,” Priest said. “I have a unique perspective on how to get it on Capitol Hill and, now, in the private sector trying to push it.
“I hope to shed some light into the process, the importance of the trade and to poke some holes in the half-truths or nonsensical arguments against it.”
Priest mentioned a lot of trade flows through West Michigan, so the conversation should be lively. He said Wolverine World Wide particularly would be affected as one of the largest members in the FDRA, and the implications for the Big Rapids facility would be big.
He said the majority of the negative aura surrounding the TPP likely is driven by the two presidential candidates being less than warm to the agreement. With the election holding the agreement up, Priest believes there’s a strong possibility the TPP could pass during the lame duck session post election.
“Both are playing to the left on it, and there’s no one at the top of the ticket talking about it positively, and that drives through society,” he said. “Post election, we’ll see more clarity and the rhetoric die down, and if we’re going to do it, we need to do it soon.”
Often, negative news about the manufacturing industry anecdotally is shifted to blame trade, Priest said.
“It’s easy to point toward something that’s shifted and blame it on trade when in fact it has nothing do with that,” he said. “We make more in the United States than we’ve made before, and the value of manufacturing is higher than ever. Efficiencies and technologies alter the way we make things, and it disrupts the labor market.”
Footwear, especially, can benefit from the agreement, as 95 percent of the industry’s customers are outside the U.S. borders, Priest said. Opening a market, such as Japan, which has high duties on shoes, could open up a variety of opportunities, he said.
Priest also is flustered by the arguments against the TPP from people who want to “combat China’s rise” of economic influence. With $5 trillion in trade moving through the South China Sea, Priest said there currently is a vacuum in the region the agreement can help seal with the 11 partner nations.
If it doesn’t pass, China could fill the void.
“If you really want to challenge China economically, it’s the best tool in the toolbox,” he said. “The agreement boxes them out economically. I can’t think of a strategically more important tool than to pass it.”
Along with strengthening relations with many Pacific nations, Priest said it will be a vibrant move for a variety of U.S. industries, including agriculture.
“I don’t think there’s an association out there where it wouldn’t drive growth and opportunity,” he said. “It’s threading a needle to get it passed, but we’re doing everything in our power to make sure Congress knows it’s vitally important geopolitically and economically.”
Medal of honor
A West Michigan woman will be in rare company when she accepts a distinguished award this month from the Foreign Policy Association.
Dixie Anderson, executive director of the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan, will be presented the Foreign Policy Association Medal in a special ceremony slated for Oct. 28 at the Harvard Club of New York.
The medal recognizes individuals who demonstrate responsible internationalism and work to expand public knowledge of international affairs.
Past recipients include former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and other prominent economists, statesmen and educators.
Anderson, who has served as executive director of the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan for 20 years, expressed gratitude for the recognition, emphasizing her role has allowed her to create and help foster a culture of education and understanding.
“In a world of flux, it’s important to recognize other people and other nations, and the ways in which we’re connected. Through understanding and education, we can harness the best that all of us have to offer and share our gifts in ways that make a difference globally.”
By the book
Daryl Delabbio is saying goodbye to Kent County.
Following 19 years at the helm of the county’s day-to-day operations — plus another 11 as Rockford’s city manager — Delabbio will retire in June 2017.
Delabbio choked up twice during his press conference Sept.29, announcing the decision, first in the initial announcement, then as he was thanking his wife of nearly 40 years, Connie.
“My career and personal life dovetail,” Delabbio said. “I’m divorcing my career, but not my wife. She has put up with the highs and lows of my career. If I was one-tenth the county administrator she is a teacher (at Rockford Public Schools), I’d be the best county administrator in the country.”
Delabbio said travel and relaxation are the first items on the agenda in retirement. Consulting is not in his future, he said, but teaching at local colleges might.
He also might write a book, something he’s always wanted to accomplish — but promised it won’t be an expose of Kent County government.
Kent County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jim Saalfeld introduced Delabbio at the press conference, detailing his accomplishments, including the county’s 18 consecutive years of Triple-A bond ratings.
Saalfeld said he’ll be forming a task force to tackle the job of replacing the long-time county executive.
“Filling Daryl’s shoes will not be easy,” Saalfeld said. “I’m not afraid to take some time on this matter.”