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!

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World Trade Week: View from the Border

2009 World Trade Week events in the southern California/US-Mexico border region:

Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce & U.S. Commercial Service co-hosted The Americas Business Forum in Los Angeles May 27-28.

  • Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke reminded guests to tap the US & Foreign Commercial Service’s myriad resources.
  • LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa shared his vision of the city as a “21st-century Venice”, a hub of global trade.
  • Bob DeMartini, export manager of Hayward Pools provided a valuable look at winning international sales through hard work and sensible channel relationships. My favorite line: “‘Exclusivity’ means ‘Exclusive Right NOT to Sell'”. Wise advice from a channel veteran.
  • Commercial diplomats from Latin America posts recapped sector growth data and read socio-political gauges. Watch what will happen in Panama in the coming decade: the $5.2 billion Panama Canal expansion project will double the canal’s capacity, and the mammoth Colón Free Trade Zone re-exports $19 billion in goods and services into all Latin American and Caribbean countries and the US, and is set to expand.
  • Orange County Center for International Trade & U.S. Commercial Service co-hosted an excellent Mexico Trade Outlook in Santa Ana May 26.

  • Ann Bacher, Incoming Minister Counselor of Commercial Affairs for the US & Foreign Commercial Service posted impressive statistics: California businesses account for 15% of the US exports to Mexico, valued at about $20 billion. NAFTA is the world’s largest free trade area, home to 440 million people and a GDP of $15.4 trillion.
  • Despite immediate concerns about influenza, sub-standard infrastructure, and narco-violence, US suppliers should keep an eye on such long-term prospects for export growth as aviation-related services and systems, automotive manufacturing systems (GM and Chrysler aren’t the only car makers located in Mexico!), franchising, security and safety systems (more on the Merida Initiative here), and education (online and campus), the latter of which signals a more informed, motivated work force.
  • Carlos Rodriguez y Quesada, spokesman for the Mexican government’s foreign investment agency, PROMÉXICO, reported major infrastructure opportunities: $4 billion to build or upgrade 1400 kilometers of rail, maritime, including the $5 billion Punto Coronet project; highways, energy, telecomm, and manufacturing systems.
  • Have you heard about Cali-Baja Bi-National Mega-Region? The economic development agencies in San Diego and Imperial Counties and the state of Baja California announced this joint venture during World Trade Week, to market the region nationally and internationally.

    At an event near the Otay Mesa Border Crossing in San Diego, I spoke with the new field director of the US Customs and Border Protection Agency, Paul Morris. Paul noted that the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) quietly went into effect on June 1, and all systems appear to be GO.

    Finally, good news from El Paso. The head of the US-Mexico Border District Export Council, Cecilia Levine, is joining her cross-border colleagues in celebrating the opening of El Paso’s first Department of Commerce office. The new office will collaborate with the DEC as well as promote a Gold Key program tailored to US suppliers who are seeking to preserve trade with manufacturers in Mexico.

    It’s World Trade Week!

    As you read this, about 31 million Americans are at work in jobs that are directly supported by international trade. Nearly one in every five U.S. jobs are linked to exports and imports of goods and services.
    Contrary to popular belief, the United States remains the world’s largest manufacturer. Since NAFTA was launched, U.S. manufacturers have boosted their output by more than 50%; U.S. factories account for over 20% of the worlds manufacturing output. Indeed, in California alone, more than 700,000 jobs are supported by the $117 billion in manufactured exports from the state to the rest of the world.

    This week-long observance of the absolute relevance of international trade to the US economy began in 1926 – like today, a most notable period of economic angst and isolationist leanings. The idea was hatched by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, who sought ways to promote growth for the booming southern Cal region and the new Port of Los Angeles.

    Hat’s off to the resourceful folks at the US Chamber of Commerce whose website, TradeRoots.org, is chock full of trade data.

    This month, the southern Cal region is still on it. In the remaining days of May, there will be gatherings in Santa Ana (Mexico Trade Outlook) and downtown LA (The Americas Business Forum) featuring some progressive, hard-working teams of government and trade officials. I will attend both, and will let you know how they go!

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