Port, business community call on Congressional Leaders to support trade

The Port of New Orleans and leaders from the local maritime and business community recently reiterated the importance of the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) to the Louisiana economy. DR-CAFTA has already passed the US Senate and is expected to come up for a vote in the House of Representatives.

At a press conference at the Poland Avenue Wharf, officials from the Port, the World Trade Center, Greater New Orleans Inc., the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, the Steamship Association of Louisiana and other members of the local maritime and business community reminded their Congressional leaders of the job growth and economic activity that DR-CAFTA will create in the Louisiana economy.

A study by LSU economist Jim Richardson shows that passage of the free trade agreement will result in 1,385 to 2,769 new jobs. The study says DR-CAFTA will create new business sales of $169 million to $339 million and additional household earnings of $39 million to $77 million.

Louisiana ranked first among the states in agricultural exports and fourth in total merchandise exports to the CAFTA countries in 2004. CAFTA countries purchased more than $1.1 billion worth of products from Louisiana companies.

Louisiana has always had strong ties to its neighbors in Central America, said Port President and CEO Gary LaGrange. Today, the Port of New Orleans handles 430,000 tons of cargo from the six DR-CAFTA countries, and the Central American region accounts for about 5% of the cargo in the Port of New Orleans.

“The Central American Free Trade agreement would give us new opportunities to grow our cargo, creating new jobs for workers in the transportation sector and for Louisiana companies that export their products,” LaGrange said.

The Richardson study identified six Louisiana industries that export to Central America and stand to profit from the passage of DR-CAFTA. Those industries include poultry production, cotton farming, rice farming, soybean farming, paper products manufacturing, chemical manufacturing, plastics manufacturing and machinery manufacturing.

“No state in our nation stands to benefit more from CAFTA than Louisiana because of our proximity to the region and because of Louisiana’s deepwater port system linked to more than 30 other states by the Mississippi River,” said Charles Nelson, President of the World Trade Center of New Orleans.”

Opening up the CAFTA market will create a multitude of immediate opportunities for Louisiana producers of manufactured goods, farm products, and services in the transportation, legal, financial, engineering, technology, tourism, medical, education, and other fields,” Nelson said.

Coffee is the largest import commodity that the Port of New Orleans handles from the DR-CAFTA countries. The Port handled over 38,000 tons of coffee from DR-CAFTA countries in 2004. The Port has been working collaboratively with Greater New Orleans Inc. and its coffee industry cluster to increase the activity of the local coffee processors.

“Latin America as a whole is our growth market for the future for Louisiana-originating products and services and for cargos shipped through our ports. The DR-CAFTA agreement will only enhance our efforts to create jobs in the Greater New Orleans region,” said Mark Drennen, President and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc.