A former governor of Washington, home to corporate heavyweights Boeing and Microsoft, Gary Locke knows international trade. As U.S. Commerce secretary since April, he has spoken out against protectionism and called the trade imbalance between the United States and China "unsustainable."
Locke was in Tampa on Friday to talk with community leaders about the upcoming census and address the National Association of Black Journalists annual convention. He also held a town hall meeting about trade with business and political leaders at Tampa's port. Here are edited excerpts from his response to questions:
On normalizing relations with Cuba: What's going to happen in the Congress, I really can't say. We know that how we take advantage of these overtures could make all the difference in terms of relations five or six or 10 years down the road. If we muff it … it could really hurt both the people of Cuba and United States' interests for quite some time.
We know Cuba will modernize. Their standard of living will increase. So, the question is, will companies in the United States help in that endeavor or will we be left out?
On intellectual property violations in China: At virtually every meeting we have with the Chinese government, we reinforce that issue and say how important it is for U.S.-China relations. And we're seeing improvement. The courts in China are starting to rule in favor of U.S. companies.
We still see a lot of counterfeit goods. You go to even a fancy department store and see the Nike swoosh and sometimes it's reversed. … It's a problem everywhere. Not just in Asia but also in the United States. And we have to come down hard on it because it's costing companies, it's costing America workers jobs. We're seeing progress, but not as fast as we'd like.
On oil drilling off Florida: We're looking at a policy that looks at more utilization of our domestic supply … recognizing where there is a culture and acceptance (of drilling) in the political leadership and the business community. We know one of those key regions is in the gulf area. The administration does know we need to focus on domestic supply.
On foreign student visas: By limiting the number of these incredible minds from other countries who want to study in the United States, we're actually shooting ourselves in the foot. So what's Microsoft doing because they can't get enough high-skilled workers coming into the United States? They're setting up research and development parks in other countries.
Steve Huettel can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3384.