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Trade deal could boost Hawaii company

By Alan Yonan Jr.

LAST UPDATED: 6:29 a.m. HST, Nov 10, 2011

At least one Hawaii-based company stands to benefit directly from a proposal being discussed at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting that would promote trade in renewable energy technology.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk will be using the meeting as an opportunity to push for an agreement among the 21 APEC economies to lower tariffs on a wide range of environmental goods and services, including solar power generation systems made by Honolulu-based Sopogy Inc. Sopogy sells its micro-concentrated solar power systems in six APEC member countries.

APEC members currently impose tariffs as high as 35 percent on imports of such products. The U.S. proposal would set a standard 5 percent tariff across all nations.

"This would definitely affect us. These economies represent 80 percent of our revenue and reduced tariffs means we're more competitive," said Darren Kimura, Sopogy president and chief executive officer.

Sopogy does business in Japan, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, Mexico and Papua New Guinea.

The APEC trade initiative is separate from a proposed trade deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership that is being negotiated among nine Pacific Rim nations, including the U.S. An APEC agreement would represent a political commitment on the part of member countries, while the TPP would be binding, similar to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Trade talks have been a part of the APEC agenda since 2007, but an agreement on renewable energy technology would be the first specific commitment with a target and time frame, a U.S. trade official said.

The Obama administration has chosen to make lower tariffs on renewable energy technology a priority, said the U.S. trade official who participated in working-level discussions on the proposal at the APEC meeting.

Kirk will discuss the initiative with his APEC counterparts during this week's meeting and the trade ministers will deliver a joint report on Friday.

Kimura said Sopogy has faced tariffs as high as 30 percent in some Asian countries.

"In that situation we are completely priced out," Kimura said.

Sopogy has learned a lot about international trade since selling its first products overseas in 2007, he said.

"It's getting easier, but we still have to deal with tariffs, currency hedging and changes in governments. You never master it. Things are always in flux."

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