Chamber of Commerce Asia Expert Tami Overby Predicts Japanese Disaster Could Spur Economic Revival

Neal Asbury opened the show by examining the emergency that has crippled Japan, estimated to cost $400 billion for a recovery – the single most expensive disaster in modern history.  Asbury thinks that a cultural change could occur that may open the Japanese market to greater trade with the rest of the world. Such a change would not only benefit the U.S., but also improve the efficiencies of many Japanese companies producing inferior quality products at inflated prices. “America has much to offer Japan if only they would open their market and allow us to compete on a level playing field,” said Asbury.

Making her first appearance on the show was Tami Overby, vice president for Asia at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  As vice president, Overby is responsible for developing, promoting, and executing programs and policies relating to U.S. trade and investment in Asia. She works closely with Chamber member companies, business coalitions, AmChams, government leaders, and business executives to achieve their business objectives in this very important part of the world.

“While Japan has some debt problems, most of the debt is held by the Japanese people, so a Japanese default is not an issue that could impact the global economy.  Despite negative coverage by media, Japan is open for business.  While Fukushima was hit hard, it is not a manufacturing center, so most major Japanese companies are in business,” said Overby.

Overby is proud that U.S. companies have pledged more than $200 million to Japan to help with the recovery effort.  And despite news to the contrary, U.S. companies doing business in Japan are not sending their employees back to America.  U.S. companies are heeding the advice that to be safe from the nuclear fallout at Fukushima, they are recommending employees keep at least 50 miles from the nuclear plant site.

One of the serious consequences of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami is that 20 percent of the electrical power is off the grid, resulting in rolling blackouts.  There also are severe fuel shortages and supply chain operations are reduced.   Overby noted that no country with a developed economy like Japan has ever faced the disaster the country is facing.

Ironically, Overby sees a new economic renaissance for Japan arising from its current situation.  Japan was in need of restructuring due to political infighting that has held back the economy.  Japan will need to reexamine its approach to the economy as it struggles with its current challenges. She equates this with the recovery that took place in South Korea after it was facing economic collapse in the 1990s.  It was a wake-up call that revived the manufacturing base.

Picking up on the Korean theme, Overby predicts that the South Korean Free Trade Agreement will be passed before the July 1 Congressional recess since it has bipartisan support, which includes key trade unions.  Overby believes that the union support for the Korean Free Trade Agreement is unprecedented.

Asbury was heartened by the news and reminded listeners that 50,000 American servicemen and women died during the Korean War so that Korea could remain free. “It’s about time this sacrifice was paid back by opening the Korean market to U.S. companies,” said Asbury.

Overby believes that in addition to the South Korean Free Trade Agreement, the remaining two free trade agreements for Colombia and Panama under consideration by Congress will all be passed at the same time.  She did warn that unlike South Korea, trade unions are holding up final passage of the trade agreement with Colombia and Panama.

“Asia is a terrific market for U.S. products.  American products are the best in the world and they deserve greater access to Asian countries. We are behind Canada, Australia, China and Chile, who all have free trade agreements with Korea. A free trade agreement gives America a level playing field with other countries. We hope that after Korea, we can pass the Trans Pacific Partnership, opening American products to other Asian countries,” said Overby.  “More than 95 percent of the global marketplace is outside the U.S. border.  The global economy pie is getting bigger, but America is not getting a big enough slice,” added Overby.

One of those Asian countries that are in America’s vision for a free trade agreement is China. Asbury reminded listeners that despite the gaping trade disparity between the U.S. and China, Mexico buys more American products than China and Japan combined.  “It’s all about market access.  China can ship its products duty free to America while we have to pay stiff tariffs in China.  We need a free trade agreement with China right now,” said Asbury.

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