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Bank of America : Free trade creates local jobs; does it take them away too?

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05/29/2016 | 04:12am CEST

May 29--James Nackos was a foreclosure specialist with Bank of America.

And then he wasn't.

Part of his duties involving protecting military people from foreclosures were outsourced to India. Late in 2013, Nackos was approached by a corporate human resources worker bearing a clipboard. He was one of the company's more than 30,000 employees laid off.

The 50-year-old Thousand Oaks resident said it's simplistic to blame his unemployment on free trade or jobs exported elsewhere -- issues pounded like penny nails by presidential candidates before California's June 7 primary.

But he remembered how employees would mutter to each other about outsourcing. The whispers focused on rumors their employer could pay nine workers in China, or three in India, the same amount one American worker is paid.

"You have fewer people employed and more people underemployed," he said at a job club aimed at unemployed white-collar workers. " ... I think companies are looking to maximize their profits and minimize their expenses like they always have."

Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump contend jobs and companies have been flushed out of the country by trade agreements that give China, Mexico and other countries leverage. Sanders says the way to protect jobs is to eliminate at least some of the pacts that allow for tariff-free trade.

Trump proposes a 45 percent tariff on China and a 35 percent tariff on Mexico. He has called for penalties on companies that outsource jobs as well as firms that import goods.

Nackos stood at the back of a Thousand Oaks community room filled with people laid off from jobs ranging from the financial sector to call centers. They come to the Outstanding Professionals Employment Network to get feedback on their resumes and to find advice from other people in the same position.

They come to find jobs.

"It's difficult but it's not impossible," said Nackos, who found work after Bank of America but has been unemployed since August.

A Republican who supported Ted Cruz, he sees outsourcing as a barrier. He's not sure about tariffs and other actions. He wonders if countries being slapped with penalties might slap back.

"It's not going to happen in a vacuum," he said.

RISING SUV PRICES

The ship from Norway with paint scraped by the Panama Canal carried 31,600 tons of fertilizer. Some of the load was dropped off at the Port of Hueneme for the crop nutrition company, Yara.

Nearby, 2,500 Kia and Hyundai vehicles from South Korea rolled off the GMT Polaris, a Goliath of a ship nearly as long as two football fields.

The goods are part of the about $9 billion in cargo moved through Ventura County and the only deep-water port between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Port of Hueneme officials say the trade brings in $93 million in taxes and creates or supports some 13,000 jobs.

It's impossible to know exactly how tariffs and penalties would change those numbers. It would not be good, said Ray Bowman, a longtime importer-exporter and trade consultant and now director of the Small Business Development Center of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

Tariffs on China and Mexico would likely be matched by those countries imposing tariffs on goods shipped from the United States, Bowman said.

"We have a lot of companies that are going to import or export from one of those countries," he said. "It's going to increase the price on both ends and decrease the sales activities."

Michael Wynn Song worries tariffs could extend to goods from South Korea. That means it would cost more for Hyundai to ship cars to Port Hueneme, an expense the company would not eat.

"That would be passed on to someone," he said, predicting rising car prices.

Song is senior vice president of community relations with Glovis America-Hueneme. Affiliated with Hyundai, the company stores vehicles shipped from South Korea at 100 acres leased at Naval Base Ventura County. More cars are kept at airports in Oxnard and Camarillo, as well as CSU Channel Islands.

Eventually, the vehicles are delivered to car dealers in a region spreading from Texas to Santa Maria.

Glovis-Hueneme employs about 300 workers, many of them drivers. It handles 139,000 cars a year, most of them imports but also Chevy Impalas and other cars shipped to South Korea.

Song, a Californian who has adopted a Korean name, said free trade creates interdependence. He cited South Korean acquisitions of American aircraft, arms and other defense supplies.

Both sides gain, he said.

"It's the backbone of the American economy. Without it the country would be significantly poorer," he said. "I don't understand so much why bashing free trade became the key thing in this presidential race."

1 percenters

Counter arguments pinpoint the massive shadow cast by goods coming into the country on those going out. At the Port of Hueneme, 300,161 cars were shipped in during 2015; 20,992 were sent out.

Standing in a mushrooming line of Bernie Sanders supporters five hours before the candidate spoke to nearly 10,000 people at Ventura College, Steven Kohler pushed the point further.

Like Song, the electrical engineer works at the Navy base. He has noticed more small private companies he works with are disappearing.

He contends part of the blame belongs with free trade.

"We've given away our manufacturing base to other countries at the expense of the middle class," he said. "Manufacturing jobs need to be brought to the United States. The top one percent need to pay their fair share of taxes on all the profits they're making."

Retaliation

Some strawberry growers plant their crops in the Oxnard plain and, in an attempt to produce goods year round, in Baja or central Mexico. Tariffs on goods shipped from Mexico could hit them hard.

Limoneira, headquartered in Santa Paula, ranks as one of the nation's largest lemon producers, shipping its products across the globe, much of them to Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and China.

Because the company can't grow enough lemons in California, they also rely on lemons from partner packing houses in Mexico, Chile, South Africa and Argentina.

All of the company's trade is headed to other countries. It wouldn't be directly hit by tariffs that target imports from China and Mexico. That would change if countries facing tariffs respond by increasing duties on goods from America.

"Is there going to be retaliation? There could be," said Harold Edwards, Limoneira CEO.

If there is and it results in increasing the cost of doing business, the result is obvious.

"It's going to make food prices more expensive," said Edwards.

He's paying attention but he's not alarmed.

"We've listened to this rhetoric our whole lives," he said.

Overseas call centers

It's not just words to Erich Aseltine, of Canoga Park. It's reality.

He's a call center specialist who has worked in customer service for more than 15 years. Now he volunteers at a Ventura County job club and works part-time in a mishmash of jobs that range from caretaker to direct sales.

The full-time call center work, he said, has been sent overseas.

He's adjusted and found a way to get by but it still hurts. In 12 months last year, he earned the equivalent of one month's pay in his prime. He cites the amount of money CEOs make, blaming it at least in part on money saved by doing business overseas.

He's not sure yet how he'll cast his vote. It may be for Trump. Aseltine doesn't know the answer to protecting American jobs. He doesn't know if tariffs or penalties will work.

But he thinks something needs to be done.

"A lot of people are being displaced," he said.

___

(c)2016 Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.)

Visit Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.) at www.vcstar.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

© Tribune Content Agency, source Regional News

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