Boustany and Cao highlight opportunities for state and call for aggressive action to resolve trade agreements

NEW ORLEANS – On Wednesday representatives Charles Boustany (R – La.) and Joseph Cao (R – La.) met with members of the Chinese embassy to promote what they believe to be the mutually beneficial opportunities of open trade. Approximately sixty individuals, including community and commercial leaders, shared in the half-day seminar, “China Business 2010: Expanding Opportunities for Louisiana Companies,” at the Port of New Orleans.

Lecturers and panel discussion participants highlighted the growing importance of the trade relationship between Louisiana and China – which has risen more than 400 percent since the year 2000. Even during the latest recession, Louisiana’s exports to China have increased by 56 percent. And that trend has run counter to Louisiana’s exports to the rest of the world, which have declined by 29 percent. The growth in trade to China is driven primarily by the agricultural sector.

Organizers also wanted to show international trade relationships in a positive light, as a provider of approximately 500,000 jobs to the state, rather than anything sinister. To emphasize the importance of international entrepreneurship, an award was presented to Intralox president Edel Blanks. Intralox, headquartered in Harahan, employs more than 1,000 individuals and has offices in seven countries, including one in Shanghai, China.

Much of the event’s discussion centered on how to achieve freer trade. One audience member, for example, encouraged Boustany and Cao to continue what he described as a “process of education,” against what he saw as self-destructive nativism.

Cao concurred and reminded the audience that for many congressmen, particularly those from inland states, free trade “simply is not a priority.”

Boustany made it clear, however, that open trade is at the top of his priorities. He co-chairs the House US-China Working Group and is on the Ways and Means Committee with jurisdiction over trade policy.

“With the U.S. economy continuing to struggle, trade represents one of the most important ways to create new jobs as markets around the world open to American goods and services… I know Louisiana workers and businesses can compete and win around the world.”

In terms of specific policies, he would like to see the federal government “vigorously engage in and complete” all of the pending free trade agreements. That does not stop with China. He noted stalled negotiations in Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. He also desires alternatives to the WTO, which has had limited success in the last decade, be they bilateral or regional agreements like NAFTA.

Li Haiyan, China’s Counselor for Economic affairs, responds to questions alongside Michael Hecht, President and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc.

Li Haiyan (pictured left), China’s Counselor for Economic Affairs, was keynote speaker, and he reflected on incredible Chinese development over the past three decades. In his opinion, a key driver of that development was international trade, and he asserted that the majority of China’s leaders want to continue this trend. However, their concern is that other countries may not share China’s view and will head in the opposite direction.

“Because of the recent recession, domestic pressure is probably going to continue to be for protectionism, and that’s why we participate in events such as these.”

Michael Hecht (pictured above on right), president and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc, is an economic development leader whose organization, along with nine others, sponsored the event. He spoke favorably of the event and of how New Orleans and the state are positioned, with the Mississippi River and modern infrastructure, to gain from trade. However, he is concerned that federal policies create a stumbling block for local jurisdictions.

“We’re focusing on building relationships, so we can increase commerce, but foreign direct investment is even more important… Events like this are the first step – necessary preconditions… However, at the end of the day, if you don’t have free trade at the international level, all of these local programs and investments come to naught.”

Fergus Hodgson is the capitol bureau reporter with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. He can be contacted at, and one can follow him on twitter.