Free Trade Agreements Approved; Good News for Employers Across US

The Americas Business Forum in Los Angeles

I attended the 3rd annual The Americas Business Forum at UCLA on March 2. The LA Chamber organizes this great event, along with the US Foreign Commercial Service and UCLA Anderson School of Management.

As a channel builder for manufacturer-exporters, I seek the fastest, most margin-friendly route to market for my clients. So, for me the most valuable part of the event was to talk with senior foreign commercial service diplomats who are in charge of building US export channels throughout the Americas: from Canada to Chile. In a round-robin of talks, they laid out challenges and opportunities that await US exporters in their respective countries.

As exporters, it’s easy to salivate over the young, growing population and the emerging consumer classes in countries the size of Brazil. The region’s economic growth rate outpaces that of the US right now, too. But, the experts urged listeners to go in with eyes wide open. In fact, the senior commercial officer from Brazil dropped one of the best one-liners of the day: “”Brazil is the country of the future and always will be”.

Collectively, attendees learn all facets of the countries: political trends, challenges in infrastructure, levels of bureaucracy, and which industry sectors are best prospects. Those senior officers stay for a second day of one-on-one counseling sessions, too.

High points:

  • – learning about the Colon Free Trade Zone in Panama, and its ideal role as a sales channel turnkey site. Engaging the services of an all-in-one representative company in Colon, I can launch my clients’ products in any or all countries in Latin America. Granted, margin discounts would reflect such turnkey services, but the efficiency with which a small or midsized US exporter could reach multiple markets probably can’t be beat. I’ve got three clients in mind right now, all makers of consumer goods, and will report back throughout the upcoming selection and retention process.
  • – hearing about Chile’s consistent, pro-business growth and its strategic ties with US partners in higher education, finance and agriculture, among others. Don’t forget that Chileans are recovering from that massive quake in 2010, just over a year ago. Part of the opportunity for US concerns lies within the re-construction efforts there, via government tenders.

UCLA’s student body is truly the Face of the Americas, and meeting on this elegant campus to talk about the future of regional trade only added to the inspiration of the event. Bookmark the event’s website, and plan to attend the 4th annual!

Put Trade Agreements to Work for Your Company

The International Trade Administration at the US Department of Commerce takes the lead on Market Access and Compliance (MAC), to assist exporters expand their share of the global export market.

MAC’s core mission is to aggressively support US business interests abroad, leveraging diplomatic, law enforcement and trade agreements with foreign trading partners. The ITA team, located throughout the US and at overseas offices, has a great track record of staying in lockstep with US companies involved in global trade. They think and act with a sense of urgency, which those of us who’ve worked in the startup sector can truly appreciate.

Trade barriers are legal (tariffs, embargos) and illegal (piracy and counterfeiting) The work done by the MAC division at ITA is shaped by real-world challenges faced by American exporters and workers.

What we commonly define as “Barriers” is open to debate, but nearly all of us might apply the term to any of these three scenarios:

procurements by foreign governments that favor particular suppliers

higher taxes in foreign markets than similar, locally produced products

difficulty protecting or enforcing IP in a particular country

The more complex, unique, or technical your company’s solutions, the more you need to know about MAC.

Check out yet another valuable federal resource, TCC On-Line (www.trade.gov/tcc). Need to report a trade barrier? Visit the site and click on Report A Barrier.

STOP Fakes: Exporting Your Intellectual Property

Protecting your company’s intellectual property in global sales transactions means ensuring that America’s creative and innovation assets remain valuable and relevant, able to overcome illegal trade barriers raised by piracy. That covers every exporting American company, whether they sell products or services.

There’s a federal government initiative run by the US Department of Commerce called Strategy Targeting Organized Piracy (STOP!), a comprehensive program that makes it easier for rights holders to obtain and enforce their IP rights at home and abroad. Its ultimate goal is to leverage international law enforcement tie-ins to dismantle the criminal networks that manufacture and distribute fake goods.

If you have not already secured your company’s intellectual property rights, then start your own STOP today. Call 1-866-999-HALT or visit www.stopfakes.gov

Most Successful Imports to China? Finished Goods

Most successful, yes … but certainly harder to attain, as a great deal of imports to the country are raw materials or components. A notably successful import strategy to China includes finished consumer packaged goods, specialty/gourmet foods, household wares and — here’s a long shot — apparel. Or, value-add goods such as specialty components for the automotive, maritime, or heavy equipment manufacturing sectors.

Systems and process control hardware and software, and the professional services they require, are also primo targets for companies around the world that wish to open up new markets in China. Same goes for pharmaceuticals, construction equipment, mass transit systems, civil engineering, architectural and urban planning services, agricultural goods and processing equipment, IT services.

Whether for an industrial product or service, or a popular consumer item, the rules of brand management apply: Brand equity must convey a “made only here” image that captures the attention of customers and consumers in China who value quality and durability.

White House Hosts National Export Initiative Event

A fellow member of the San Diego & Imperial District Export Council participated in the July 7 event hosted by President Obama, held to promote our National Export Initiative . Kim Benson is an international business leader based in San Diego and is also appointed to the Industry Trade Advisory Center, a unique private-public partnership that plays a vital advisory role in shaping our nation’s foreign trade policy.

President Obama and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke acknowledged the gathered guests’ contributions to expanding trade, and announced re-launch of the President’s Export Council. As I’ve stated previously on this blog site, this is a commendable and challenging step.

Ms. Benson, who is vice president of Cange International, an international business consultancy observes “a shift in the government taking place now, in terms of the degree of communication among positions and agencies related to trade.” President Obama has also deemed specific members of his cabinet to be Export Promotion Cabinet Members, she notes. “He meets with them regularly and expects cooperation to reach the objectives of the NEI specifically. These efforts will now be supplemented by input provided to President Obama by the President’s Export Council. Having the National Export Initiative clearly set forth is obviously creating unprecedented cooperation among positions and agencies. I see this as something very positive, and I must say that in 20 years I have not seen this level of cooperation.”

The president’s very public and direct pledges since his State of the Union address in January are the best way to hold lenders and government export agencies accountable. Since February of this year, the Department of Commerce has coordinated 18 trade missions with over 160 companies participating in 24 countries. Further, there are eight more trade missions scheduled over the next three months, which can be tracked via Tradeology, the International Trade Administration’s blog. Secretary Locke reminded those gathered in the East Room that in March, the US reached an agreement with China to reopen the Chinese market to pork and pork products. And in June, the US agreed with Russia to reopen the Russian market to US poultry exports. These steps together are worth more than $1 billion. (That’s a start toward reaching $2 trillion in exports in five years, a key goal of the NEI!)

Watch for the Export Promotion Cabinet’s 180-day report to the president, due on September 1.

More About Industry Trade Advisory Center
ITAC is primarily comprised of leaders from small-to-midsized businesses with proven success in global trade. Formed in 1974 and jointly run by the Department of Commerce and the US Trade Representative Office, ITAC ensures that trade negotiators consult with representatives from the private sector during trade negotiations.

Read more about the July 7 White House event here, including a link to a National Export Initiative Progress Report.

Export Promotion Cabinet To Convene in April

The inaugural session for our nation’s new Export Promotion Cabinet will convene next month, under the direction of Pres. Obama. The Cabinet, according to the president, is “made up of the Secretaries of State, Treasury, Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor, along with our USTR, our Small Business Administrator, the Export-Import Bank President, and other senior U.S. officials whose work impacts exports.”

And, to help prod momentum of this grand undertaking, the president has also re-launched the President’s Export Council, a private-sector national advisory committee headed up by Fortune 100 CEOs.

These two big steps are part of the new National Export Initiative, announced by the president in the recent State of the Union address as the catalyst to reach the goal of “doubling America’s exports over the next five years -– an increase that will support 2 million American jobs”.

Speaking at today’s gathering of the Export-Import Bank’s Annual Conference, Pres. Obama pledged that “we’ll continue to increase the amount of trade financing Ex-Im offers, including a new $2 billion per year effort to increase support for our small and medium-sized businesses.” And that’s where the true value of this executive-level effort will hit home. We all know independent businesses who are on the verge of international growth, but are hampered by lack of affordable funding.

The president’s very public and direct pledges these past few weeks are the best way to hold lenders and government export agencies accountable and to support them to quickly help their constituents who, collectively, employ a vast majority of Americans.

The number one challenge of these government agencies will be to keep in lock-step with the innovative and energetic American entrepreneurs, acting to break down barriers, provide timely assets and incentives, and to think like an entrepreneur working at break-neck speed. That’s what the International Trade Administration of the Department of Commerce is so good at already. Stand back!!!

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