BLOOMINGTON — Recently approved trade agreements between the U.S. and Panama, Colombia and South Korea will help Central Illinois businesses compete in a global economy, a lobbyist with a Central Illinois manufacturer said Tuesday in a session here on free trade.
Bill Lane, director of government affairs for Peoria-based Caterpillar, spoke to more than 60 community business leaders regarding the economic impact trade agreements. More than half of Caterpillar’s products are exported to developing countries, Lane said.
“For the last five years instead of selling to rich countries, we sell to developing countries.” Lane said during the McLean County Chamber’s 2011 Economic Summit. “What happens in developing countries affects Central Illinois.”
Caterpillar now exports more than half of its manufactured machinery to countries outside of the United States. Since the U.S. forged a trade agreement with Chile, exports to Chile from Caterpillar have tripled, Lane said.
In October, Congress cleared legislation to form free trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea. These new agreements will open up a greater market for locally-based companies, Lane said.
Charlie Moore, the chamber’s president and CEO, said local businesses, big and small, can benefit from trade. The Internet is among the resources that can connect McLean County businesses with a global market, Moore said.
Tamara Nelsen, senior director of commodities for the Illinois Farm Bureau, was among those who attended the lunch session at the Double Tree by Hilton in Bloomington. Nearly 40 percent of corn and nearly 30 percent of soybean grown in Illinois are exported, Nelsen said. Illinois corn and soybeans are exported to countries including Canada, Mexico, China and Japan, Nelsen said.
“The new agreements means that we are probably going to see (export) increases in agriculture,” Nelsen said.
Nelsen said the Illinois Farm Bureau in past years missed out on opportunities to export to Colombia.
During a question and answer portion of the presentation, Peter Rankaitis of Lexington asked Lane to address concerns that free trade agreements are responsible for jobs being outsourced to developing countries.
“We’ve lost 50,000 manufacturing jobs (in the U.S.),” Rankaitis said. “Is it really free trade and is it fair?”
But with 80 percent of the global economy outside of the United States, trade agreements are crucial for the success of American countries that export their products and services abroad, Lane said.