Trade is good for Florida

Politicians and policy makers could use a little reminder that trade creates jobs, right here in Florida. Processing, packing, shipping and serving products of all kinds happen in our communities.
In just one sign of the importance of exports and imports to the Florida economy, the Port of Tampa is expanding its container cargo area to meet increasing international cargo demand. [Courtesy of Tampa Port Authority]
In just one sign of the importance of exports and imports to the Florida economy, the Port of Tampa is expanding its container cargo area to meet increasing international cargo demand. [Courtesy of Tampa Port Authority]
Published November 26
Updated November 26

From Jacksonville to Miami, Florida celebrates the Venetian explorer Marco Polo, but not in the way you might think. While beaches and by-ways are named for the famous traveler, it is his history as a merchant that the Sunshine State really revels in.

From outboard motors to oranges, Florida exports tens of billions of dollars in products to hundreds of countries across the globe. At the same time we bring in everything from aircraft to fish from trading partners in Indonesia, Canada and China, just to name a few. This is an accomplishment that would surely be lauded by the man who trod the Silk Road. It is this robust exchange that celebrates Marco Polo’s history and reminds us that trade is a two-way street.

These days politicians and policy makers could use a little reminder that trade creates jobs, right here in Florida. Processing, packing, shipping and serving products of all kinds happen in our communities. Trade wars lay waste to those jobs in the mistaken name of protecting them. Rising costs equal layoffs, plain and simple.

The Department of Commerce estimates that 72,826 Florida jobs rely on imported seafood. That is just a single, albeit important, commodity. Imagine the toll on the broader workforce.

Does China steal intellectual property from the United States? Yes. Should robust and aggressive measures be taken to stop such theft? Yes. But not on the backs of Florida workers those efforts are designed, at least nominally, to protect.

What’s more, in this growing trade war the weapon used to target the scofflaws is the bluntest of blunt battering rams available in the arsenal; tariffs. Tariffs are not a state-of-the-art smart bomb but an antiquated scatter shot whose collateral damage consists almost exclusively of consumers. Tariffs are a tax on Americans who buy goods, not on the countries that send them here.

These days tariffs can be found on everything from groceries, to baby products and even pet food. All this results in higher prices for families and there appears to be no end in sight. It is time for either an end to the trade hostilities or meaningful negotiations. Long-term limbo will do nothing but hurt Florida business, kill American jobs and drive prices up. And to counter that, interest rates goes up.

Successful voyages depend on at least a reasonable road map. Marco Polo’s trips to the Far East in search of trade routes influenced how the very maps to that region were made and in turn generations of successful trade. Our representatives in Washington deserve to know where this trade standoff is headed and should demand action from the administration that takes U.S. companies out of a precarious limbo that could cost American jobs. Workers, consumers and companies depend on it.

Dave Pearce is president and CEO of Tampa Maid Foods, a Lakeland-based company that uses both globally sourced and locally caught seafood in its products which are marketed across North America. He also sits on the board of directors and the executive committee of the National Fisheries Institute, of which he is a past chairman.

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