CPCC speakers discuss trade deal’s potential impact on Carolinas

A proposed trade agreement between the U.S. and European Union has the potential to create jobs in the Carolinas and boost the two states’ economies, speakers at an event in Charlotte said Tuesday.

But others said they have reservations about the pact, which reminds them of another trade deal, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which they blame for the loss of many Carolinas textile industry jobs.

The agreement, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, was the focus of the event at Central Piedmont Community College’s Harris Campus in west Charlotte. Speakers and panelists included business executives from Charlotte and representatives from European countries.

Supporters argue the agreement, which is still being negotiated by U.S. and European officials, would make it easier for U.S. and European companies to trade and invest across the Atlantic. For Charlotte, which is home to European-based companies, that could bring benefits, supporters say.

Specifically, they say the agreement would help U.S. and European companies by eliminating tariffs and unnecessary regulations.

Panelist Mark Pringle, vice president of Siemens’ Charlotte Energy Hub, said his company would benefit from a “harmonizing” of standards that companies face in different countries. Pringle said it can add to a company’s costs when it has to build a product one way to meet standards in one country, then change the way the product is built to meet standards in another country.

Speaker Ludwig Willisch, president of BMW of North America, which has a manufacturing plant in Spartanburg, said high tariffs are affecting companies on both sides of the Atlantic and having “a substantial economic impact.”

“Removal of these barriers would surely lead to the reduction of costs for companies on both sides, creating direct consumer benefits as well as job opportunities,” he said.

The future of the agreement remains unclear. In Europe, questions and concerns have been raised about the impact the deal could have there, such as whether supermarkets would be filled with meat from American animals fed with hormones.

The agreement has some in North Carolina wary as they fear a repeat of job losses they attribute to NAFTA.

“We’re all for trade. But the devil’s in the details,” event attendee and AT&T consultant Ed Kaleda told a reporter after the event. He and others are calling for more transparency as the agreement is being hammered out.