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Trade agreements touted as job creators

By Andrew Gomes

LAST UPDATED: 6:26 a.m. HST, Nov 10, 2011

The chief executive of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave a local business audience a preview Wednesday of how he will be pressing to expand global trade later this week during Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings in Honolulu.

Thomas J. Donohue, the U.S. Chamber's president and chief executive officer, told about 100 members and guests of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii that reaching a trade agreement with eight Asia-Pacific nations is an objective that would create jobs nationally.

Donohue also suggested that the trade deal being pursued, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, could lead to a "huge influx" of additional Asian tourists coming to Hawaii.

But visa restrictions present a bigger barrier to Hawaii welcoming more visitors from Asian countries, including China, Donohue said.

"We've got to find a better way to welcome people," he said. "We need to put the welcome mat back out."

Erik Soderholm, vice president of Soderholm Sales & Leasing Inc., a Honolulu firm that sells buses to Hawaii tour operators, asked Donohue for his view on the chances and timing for a U.S. visa waiver program, allowing more Chinese to vacation in Hawaii.

Donohue didn't give an estimate, but said at a news conference after his speech that relaxing tourist travel restrictions to the U.S. is a bigger challenge than relaxing trade barriers for goods and investment.

The United States aims to reach outlines of a trade agreement with Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam during APEC meetings running through this weekend on Oahu.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, is a goal of President Barack Obama, and supporters hope a trade deal can be reached and later expanded to include Japan and China.

An agreement with the eight countries would be the biggest trade deal involving the United States since the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, and would follow the passage last month of trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.

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