The future lies in the Asia-Pacific
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If you want to see the future, look no further than the Asia-Pacific. Within the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, economies you will find the largest growing middle-class consumer base, 54 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, and 44 percent of the world’s trade. Recently, I chaired a Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee hearing on opportunities for the United States to expand our trade relationships in the Asia-Pacific region.

To create good-paying jobs here at home, allow our businesses to expand and compete on the world stage, and remain the world’s economic super power, we must direct our attention to the Asia-Pacific.

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The truth is, we are already falling behind. During the hearing, Matthew Goodman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies emphasized in his testimony that the 11 other members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership are now engaged in 27 separate trade negotiations with our competitors – but without the U.S.  In short, we lose ground by standing still, and we have already begun to lose out.

It would be a mistake not to recognize how engagement with our trading partners in the Asia-Pacific has already worked to the benefit of middle-class Americans.

Take Trident Seafoods, for example. Based in my home state of Washington, Trident Seafoods has risen from humble beginnings to become the largest privately held seafood company in North America. First launched as a partnership between three seasoned crab fishermen, Trident now employs approximately 8,000 men and women in the United States during peak season and supports hundreds of independent fishermen and small businesses. Trident sells its products to restaurants, distributors, club stores, retail, and food service providers across the United States and North America, and exports products to Asia and Europe.

At our recent hearing, Trident’s Director of Government Relations and Seafood Sustainability, Stefanie Moreland, spoke about the great successes the company has already had in the Asia-Pacific and the tremendous untapped opportunities that could be unlocked through high-standard trade agreements.

In her testimony, Moreland detailed just how indispensable markets in the Asia-Pacific region are to American seafood producers. Seventy percent of U.S. seafood production is exported. Out of the $5 billion of annual U.S. seafood exports, about half of all products are shipped to China, Japan, and Korea. Our seafood exports to South Korean markets alone have increased by 20 percent since entry into force of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS).

While these numbers demonstrate the high demand for American seafood products in Asian markets, they do not tell the full story.

Crippling tariffs, burdensome rules, and lower prices and processing standards of foreign competitors create an uphill battle for American seafood producers, as well as exporters from many other industries, when trying to sell products in the Asia-Pacific.

Among many examples Moreland gave, she explained the hardship that Japan’s 10 percent tariff on Alaska Pollock fillet products puts on American seafood producers. Japan’s steep barrier has given our foreign competitors, including Russia, who have lower processing standards, a strong advantage in Japan and other growing, highly profitable markets.

Stories of crippling tariffs, outdated laws, and discriminatory anti-competitive practices are told across sectors and industries. As Demetrios Marantis, the Senior Vice President and Head of Global Government Relations at Visa, explained during the hearing, discriminatory regulations in Vietnam threaten to completely shut American electronic payment processing companies like Visa and MasterCard out of the market entirely.

This is a status quo America cannot accept. It is time we level the playing field and put American workers, farmers, ranchers, and entrepreneurs in a position to compete – and win – based on merit.

How do we do that?  We must update existing trade agreements and force countries like Korea to comply with their obligations.  And we must waste no time negotiating ambitious new ones with countries like Japan and Vietnam – that reflect our ambitions and set the high standards Americans expect. The clock is already ticking.

At this very moment, as we sit on the sidelines, other nations are vying to fill the leadership vacuum in the Asia-Pacific we have created and write the rules of the 21st century with their – not our – interests in mind.

America has never been one for second place – let’s keep it that way.

Dave ReichertDavid (Dave) George ReichertMcCarthy: Virginia election ‘makes me nervous’ 12 House Republicans object to Alaska refuge oil drilling proposal Ads target House Republicans over tax reform MORE is chairman of the Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee.