A decade after Hurricane Katrina devastated much of New Orleans, the American city is still in the process of rebuilding and is now setting its sights on foreign trade and foreign investment, especially when it comes to the European Union and TTIP.
“After Katrina, we have had to reinvent ourselves. (The disaster) created a lot of business opportunities in a city where it was difficult to find work,” said city tourism official Kim Priez.
Currently, there are more than 70 European companies that have set up shop in the Southern Louisiana city, in sectors such as chemicals, petrochemicals and engineering.
Regarded as the “worst natural disaster in US history” by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Katrina caused 1,833 deaths and displaced nearly a million people through property damage.
Reconstruction of the city, whose greater area includes 1.3 million people, has been facilitated by $1.31 billion from Washington. However, more than 100,000 people have decided not to return to rebuild their homes due to lack of financial means.
Built on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi river, New Orleans was flooded in 2005, after the waterway’s levees failed as a result of Katrina making landfall.
According to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, the city has recovered more than 80% of its private jobs since 2011, with 64% companies created per capita more than the national average.
“Many Europeans have invested in New Orleans, especially the United Kingdom, France and Germany, especially in the energy sector,” said the Executive Director of the city’s World Trade Centre, Dominik Knoll.
In recent years, the region has diversified its economy and created jobs in biosciences, digital media, the environmental sector, energy, international trade, advanced manufacturing and tourism.
“We are in favour of free trade. We see the consumer benefits of agreements like TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), market access with Colombia and TTIP,” said Kristi App, vice-president of business development at international transport company, J.W.Allen.
She added that studies show that “within five years, trade with countries with which the US has free trade agreements will double”, noting also that TTIP’s planned elimination of non-tariff barriers and access to European markets will be a huge boon to trade.
“We are focusing on promoting the products we already have. The EU market is very difficult for us to access, especially on account of non-tariff barriers,” said the president of trade policy at the city’s World Trade Centre, Edward Hayes.
He added that the eventual conclusion of the agreement between Washington and Brussels is expected to increase US exports of processed food, including seafood, a sector in which the Gulf of Mexico is highly invested.
Seafood producer Cholin Delaune, owner of Tommy’s, a processing plant for shrimp, oyster and crab, said that TTIP would “allow me to put my products on the European market”. He also claimed that many US companies want to raise health standards and certification to EU levels.
“We are very interested in labelling and traceability, because it will be of benefit to our companies,” Delaune added, who also highlighted his opposition to GMOs, which are banned in the EU and are one of the sticking points in the ongoing FTA negotiations.
The seafood producer said that “we don’t want adulterated products. We see transgenic products in a negative light and we don’t want to be associated with them, we are interested in quality.”
The US produces 10% of the shrimp that it consumes, as a result of tariffs being eliminated 20 years ago. It imports the majority of the foodstuff from India, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Ecuador and Mexico.
Negotiations between the US and the EU on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) started in July 2013.
If the treaty is signed, it will affect almost 40% of world GDP. Commercial relations between the EU and the United States are already among the most intense in the world, with an exchange of goods and services worth €2 billion each day.