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Spotlight on Pride Month: Jeff Dutton, Commercial Service Officer

June 17, 2021

Jeff Dutton is a Commercial Officer based in Shanghai, China

This post coincides with the Department of Commerce’s spotlight on LGBT Pride Month.

This post contains external links. Please review our external linking policy. 

ITA Commercial Service Officer Jeff Dutton speaks to industry leaders at the Carrier Air Conditioning Museum in China.

I work at ITA’s U.S. Commercial Service office in Shanghai, China, supervising a team of 7 local staff and 2 fellow commercial officers. We offer a variety of export promotion services to small and medium-sized U.S. companies. Whether it’s a consumer product such as air fresheners or nutritional supplements, or a service provider helping industrial parks in China use less energy and lower carbon emissions, my colleagues and I help connect U.S. companies with potential agents, distributors, and customers in China.

As a college student in my home state of Arkansas, I studied abroad in Spain, Mexico, and Japan. I decided to pursue my interest in international trade and economics with a Master’s degree in International Relations at the Maxwell School of Public Affairs at Syracuse University in New York. A Maxwell School alumna who had landed at ITA recommended that I apply for several ITA jobs. I didn’t get the first job that I interviewed for, but I kept trying and in 1998 was offered an International Trade Specialist position. What excites me about export promotion and commercial diplomacy is that it brings people together for mutually beneficial economic exchange while at the same time helping communities across America by creating good-paying jobs. I also enjoy meeting business owners who succeeded in expanding their operations and hiring more American workers as a result of trade agreements ITA helped negotiate or a contract signed with a foreign distributor that my teammates introduced them to.

International trade is inherently cross-cultural and being a successful practitioner of it requires sensitivity to other cultures, flexibility in the way you communicate, and a readiness to expect the unexpected. I think that many members of the LGBTQ+ community have honed these skills for a variety of reasons, but partially because many of us felt not quite at home in the communities where we grew up, even if we did have supportive and loving families (as I had, even in rural Arkansas). So there may be a disproportionately higher number of LGBTQ+ people in organizations like the State Department, ITA, and the Foreign Agricultural Service. On the customer side, there are many LGBTQ+ owned and -led businesses in the United States who are our clients, particularly in the travel and leisure, design, and other creative industries. As U.S. exports become more service-oriented, knowledge-based and creative, it will be important to engage this dynamic segment of the American economy.

For those in the LGBTQ+ community interested in expanding your business through international sales, please take advantage of ITA’s many low-cost services for U.S. small- and medium-size exporters. Go to Trade.gov and check out the growing number of free market intelligence reports from virtually every major market worldwide where the Commercial Service has offices. Also on trade.gov, find your local U.S. office of the Commercial Service and give our expert colleagues near you a call to explore your options and brainstorm about best prospects.

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Exploring the Global Economic Recovery from COVID-19

June 15, 2021

Brooke Tenison is an International Economist in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Trade Policy and Analysis; and Susan Xu is an International Economist in the Office of Trade and Economic Policy

This post contains external links. Please review our  external linking policy. 

A heatmap of global GDP growth rates for 2021. Relatively few countries are projected to continue to suffer negative growth rates over the next year. Many countries, especially across Africa and the Middle East, are predicted to see modest growth up to 3 percent. Advanced economies are projected to see mainly between 3 and 5 percent, while a very select few, including China, are projected to show more than 8% growth.
Data Source: IMF World Economic Outlook

Since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March 2020, the world economy has weathered stop-go rhythms with shutdowns and reopenings, and markets of all shapes and sizes incurring tremendous losses. However, with the arrival of multiple effective vaccines, the world is looking toward recovery, both from an economic and public health perspective.

According to the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook released in April 2021, the global economy is projected to recover in 2021 and 2022 with anticipated GDP growth of 6% and 4.4% respectively. This growth, however, is not projected to be shared equally across countries or industries.

As trade economists, we’d like to offer perspectives about how the economic recovery is progressing.

Economic recovery so far is based on three main factors:

  • First and foremost is uneven access to vaccines—each economy’s growth hinges on vaccine availability and efficacy.
  • Second, domestic policies, which vary across countries, significantly impact the pace of economic recovery.
  • Third, the pace of recovery will also depend on country-specific structural factors, particularly reliance on high-contact sectors, such as tourism.

Furthermore, advanced economies and developing countries vary in their capacities to execute short- and long-term recovery strategies. This has a direct impact on their abilities to recover:

  • Advanced economies are projected to recover faster than emerging market and developing economies. Advanced economies had the fiscal space at the beginning of the crisis to implement effective stimulus measures, and many now can quickly roll out vaccines. This bloc tends to have larger work-from-home flexibility in conducting business as they generally have higher technology intensity in the production process and digital infrastructure.
  • Conversely, developing countries historically do not have as much room in their budgets to stimulate their economies, and have not been able to vaccinate their populations as quickly as advanced economies. Lacking access to vaccines effectively places a ceiling on growth, and some estimates project that developing economies will not have widespread access to vaccines for several years. Businesses in developing economies tend to depend more on face-to-face interactions and have fewer work-from-home jobs. In the meantime, developing economies will likely suffer from economic scarring, or long-term effects.

 Recoveries also vary largely by country according to the data in May. In particular:

  • The United States is projected to surpass pre-COVID levels of GDP in 2021 thanks to a rapid vaccine rollout and three rounds of stimulus checks that have kept American consumers spending through the pandemic.
  • The European Union (EU) is expected to recover to pre-COVID GDP levels a bit later, in mid-2022, due to a slow vaccine rollout and dependency on sectors that rely on human contact and interaction, such as tourism, cultural and creative industries. The EU has struggled with a third wave of COVID-19 infections and new lockdowns.
  • In contrast, the United Kingdom (UK) is expected to recover faster than the rest of Europe despite having longer lockdowns than many European countries, one of the deadliest outbreaks in 2020, and complications from Brexit. Its early procurement of vaccines and rapid vaccination drive to deliver the first shot to as many people as possible are key to a quicker recovery. Also important is the UK’s quick fiscal policy response; it was the first major economy to set plans to repair the damage to public finances caused by the pandemic.
  • China has surprised many with the speed of its recovery. The world’s second-largest economy grew 2.3% in 2020—the only major economy to avoid a contraction last year. This growth has continued in 2021 as a rebound in foreign demand has encouraged higher export growth. Partially hit by global chip shortages and international logistics jams, the economy’s strong pandemic bounce-back presents a two-speed track, with strong industrial output and export demand but lagging consumer spending.

Focus on Trade:

As of spring 2021, overall global trade volumes have numerically returned to pre-pandemic levels, but their composition looks different. According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), global trade began recovering in the third quarter of 2020 and continued through the end of the year. Goods trade led the charge, recovering far more quickly than services. Goods like home office and communications equipment performed remarkably well compared to last year. Services trade, suffering from pandemic-related restrictions as well as consumer hesitation to travel, bottomed out in the second quarter of 2020 and is recovering sluggishly. Travel and tourism is understandably the most impacted services sector (check out NTTO’s dashboard for how this is progressing in the U.S.).

For a U.S. perspective on the recovery in trade, check out ITA’s monthly analysis of U.S. exports, imports, and other vital trade data.

From a global perspective, this crisis will continue to have echo-effects long after the virus is contained. With each passing day we have some more insight into how the virus has affected the global economy. While it is too early to understand the full picture, for now we can see simply that growth has a double ceiling: virus containment and vaccine access. Until the virus is controlled, we will continue on a bumpy, uneven road to recovery.

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Investing in America: An Expanded SelectUSA Guide for Global Companies

May 25, 2021

Bill Burwell is the Acting Executive Director of the Department’s SelectUSA Program

This post contains external links. Please review our  external linking policy. 

When most people think about trade, they probably conjure images of containers shipped across oceans or trucked along highways. It’s true that America is a major exporter of goods and our ports are abuzz with activity around the clock. We’re also a major source of foreign direct investment—and while this trade term may not spark a visual, chances are high that you live in or near a community that benefits from it.

Simply put, foreign direct investment (FDI) is inbound investment into the United States from global companies. For the world, the United States is a great place to do business. We have the laws, the expertise, the work ethic and a world class workforce which businesses need to succeed. In fact, the U.S. has ranked #1 for nine years in a row as the top destination for foreign business investment. At the Department of Commerce, we have a program that specializes in attracting FDI—SelectUSA—and since its inception, it has facilitated more than $84 billion in inbound investment, creating and/or retaining over 106,000 U.S. jobs.

Some foreign investors may be experienced at entering multiple markets and extensively resourced to do so. Others may be exploring opening their first international location and in the early stages of information discovery. Either way, SelectUSA has a suite of services to help all types of investors, and offers counseling, introductions to U.S. economic development organizations, assistance navigating the U.S. federal regulatory system, and finally, products and events to help those investors better understand the U.S market.

One such example of the resources that SelectUSA has developed to assist potential investors is the SelectUSA Investor Guide, which was first launched in 2020.  Authored by competitively selected subject matter experts in their respective fields, the chapters in this guide are designed to give investors an overview of key topics essential to successful investing in the United States. The first edition of the guide covered topics such as an Overall Investment Checklist, Immigration, Business Structure, Taxes, Workforce and FDI Restrictions.

This year we proudly release 5 new additional chapters on the following topic areas:

Each of these chapters will inspire panel conversations at the upcoming 2021 SelectUSA Investment Summit, to be held virtually June 7-11, 2021, and which will be hosted by U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. The Investment Summit is designed for investors of all sizes – including established multinationals, small or medium-sized enterprises, and high-growth start-ups. The event will showcase investment opportunities from every (virtual) corner of the United States, as high-profile business and government leaders share insights on the latest business trends. Participants will find the practical tools, information, and connections they need to move investments forward.

We are thrilled to be a part of May’s World Trade Month celebrations, and even more excited to welcome FDI that helps to create export-supported jobs into the United States. If you are interested in learning more, information about the Investment Summit, including registration details, visit www.selectusasummit.us. It isn’t too late to sign up, and we hope to see you there!

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Promoting Equitable Economic Growth in a Virtual Era

May 24, 2021

Nya Igambi is Regional Director for the U.S. Commercial Service’s Southern Network. The Commercial Service (CS) is the trade promotion arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration.

World Trade Month presents an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the small and medium-sized companies that drive U.S. exports and strengthen our economy. It’s also an opportunity to encourage firms, including minority-owned firms, to begin or expand their export efforts.  

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, in 2019, U.S. exports of goods and services totaled $2.5 trillion and supported 10.7 million U.S. jobs. Of the 288,000 U.S. companies that exported goods in 2019, 97.4% were small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).  

With 96% of the world’s consumers located outside of the U.S., exporting is a crucial growth strategy that business owners should consider – especially minority-owned firms. Minority-owned businesses represented approximately 18.3% (1 million) of all U.S. businesses in 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and statistically are well-positioned to go global. According to the Minority Business Development Agency, they are twice as likely to export, three times as likely to already have international operations, and six times as likely to transact business in a language other than English. 

I have been passionate about increasing the number of minority and women exporters since I joined the U.S. Commercial Service 20 years ago as a global diversity outreach specialist. Now, in 2021, I am energized by the Commerce Department’s economic recovery plan for U.S. businesses and workers, which includes a focus on creating economic prosperity through exports, including minority exporters. The plan will be vital to improving our communities, particularly as they continue their recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Minority-owned businesses often have cultural ties, language skills, and flexibility that can provide unique advantages when exporting. These firms can readily leverage foreign language capabilities, diaspora, and contacts in foreign markets to sell their products and services overseas. Minority-owned companies are creative, innovative and are represented in every industry sector in the United States. Technology and cross-border eCommerce enable firms to go global from inception. 

Houston-based startup, and U.S. Commercial Service client, IPP Global, is one example of a minority-owned firm that found success in overseas markets. With export counseling and assistance from CS Houston, company executives decided to pursue export opportunities as part of their initial business strategy.

“Our focus went global right away because we noticed there’s a major pull from the African continent,” said IPP Global’s president, Peter Agbro. “There’s a major pull for U.S. technology internationally, and it’s an easy entry because there’s a high demand for U.S. technology as compared to within the U.S. itself. Within the U.S. the technology is abundantly available, and the competition is steep, but outside of the U.S. …competition is less, and there is a high demand for it. We started to plan for export almost immediately.”  

Despite these many advantages, historically, minority-owned SMEs, and other SMEs in underserved communities, continue to face steep challenges growing their business and adding jobs through new export sales. There are many reasons why—SMEs in underserved communities often lack knowledge about export opportunities, lack access to financing, and face difficulties in identifying and vetting overseas customers. Additionally, they often struggle to connect with appropriate service providers and resources that could help to facilitate an export transaction.

While the pandemic has increased complications for exporters, it has also ushered in developments that will help organizations like the International Trade Administration and the U.S. Commercial Service to be more inclusive and connect with more potential clients, including minority-owned businesses, as the U.S. economy recovers from the pandemic. More specifically, using digital tools and virtual services, we can assist more clients and provide more resources to help businesses to recognize their competitive advantages and seize opportunities.

  • For example, this past year, we have advised companies to utilize the Single Company Promotion (SCP) as an out-of-the-box marketing option. The SCP provides a U.S. firm with a promotional event such as a technical presentation to help increase awareness of their existing/new products/services in a specific market. The U.S. Commercial Service organizes the event logistics; conducts a targeted direct mail or e-mail campaign; manages the promotional campaign and event-related logistics; and provides a post-event debriefing to discuss next steps.
  • Additionally, through its eCommerce Innovation Lab and trained trade professionals, the U.S. Commercial Service offers valuable tools to help companies grow their brand for global sales. The Website Globalization Review Gap Analysis is the first step and provides technical and strategic assessment of a company’s eCommerce sales channel efforts and is aimed at helping companies acquire more international consumers online. 

These are just a few examples of the digital tools and resources that the U.S. Commercial Service has developed to support a more equitable, export-led, economic recovery. If you are a U.S. business interested in developing an export strategy, reach out to your local U.S. Export Assistance Center today.

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Spotlight on Commerce: Ava Jamerson, International Trade Specialist

May 20, 2021

Ava Jamerson is an International Trade Specialist in the Enforcement and Compliance Office of Communications

This post originally appeared on the Department of Commerce blog as part of its Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month series.

I am an International Trade Specialist and professional communicator for ITA’s Enforcement and Compliance (E&C) unit. In this role, I help U.S. industries, media and the public understand the work we do to support a free, fair, and rules-based system of trade that protects American workers and businesses. Working in E&C’s communications office is extremely rewarding because I get a birds-eye-view of the entire business unit’s daily operations, and the great variety of work I do makes every day fresh and exciting.

I want to share my story of growing up Asian American with a twist. Born in Oregon, I was whisked away to China within the first two weeks, where I spent five years of my life before being towed around the world by my State Department parents. From a young age, I felt that I didn’t fit in. I am half-Chinese and half African American but being “Blasian” (Black and Asian) comes with its own unique set of experiences. At the market in China, vendors would call my Chinese mom a nanny, while pointing at me whispering “wai guo ren,” or “outsider.” In other countries, I was called an “American” while my more “Asian-looking” friends were called “Chino.” Even back in the states, people are not very quick to realize that I am Asian. At first, I struggled with feelings of belonging, but my life abroad has blessed me with a broader perspective as I absorbed cultures from around the world and met inspiring people from extremely diverse backgrounds. It taught me that although the brain is hardwired to depend on labels and biases, we need to question and challenge our subconscious, and sometimes override our preconceptions.

Despite struggling with the disconnect when I was younger, not “looking” Chinese has been a blessing that taught me that being Asian is all about what’s on the inside. Some of my favorite memories in Dalian include catching cicadas with my cousin on a hot  summer day, watching my nimble-fingered aunts pinch pillowy dumplings at New Years, and sitting on plastic stools in the street to eat a breakfast of deep-fried dough and soymilk. These all became formative experiences of what being Chinese means to me. The same memories later pushed me to learn even more. Right before graduating from high school in Mexico, I moved back to the U.S. just in time to experience one year of public school and, in 2014, I enrolled in the University of Oregon’s Chinese Flagship Program. The following year, I attended a summer language program hosted by Princeton, and later received the Boren scholarship to fund a full year of study and work abroad in China in 2016. After graduation, I was naturally drawn to public service because I watched how the government gives hardworking and kind people like my parents the opportunity to build relationships with people all over the world while also representing something bigger than themselves. To me, Asian American Pacific Islander month is all about recognizing how being Chinese plays a big role in my life and sharing my culture with others.

The lessons I’ve learned surrounding the Asian identity are especially prevalent right now. Recent high-profile race-based hate crimes have spurred much-needed conversations about the aggressions that minorities face on a daily basis. It hits even closer to home to know that even the older generation is targeted, and folks like my mom, uncles, and aunts, are being harassed based on their heritage. It is deeply saddening that fear and ignorance can be so damaging, when my global exposure has shown me firsthand the commonalities, we have between each other. None of us is going to solve racism in a day, but one first step that we can all take is to focus on changing ourselves and the people around us. The key takeaway is to take on the world with an open mind and ask the people who surround you to do the same. As for the young people out there, visibility is everything. Having diverse representation in the federal government is important because it gives minority groups the opportunity to amplify their voices and shape America into a country that is institutionally inclusive and fair for everyone.   

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce employees during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

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COVID-19 Economic Recovery: An Important Moment Arrives for U.S. Exporters

May 19, 2021

Eak Gautam and Ian Saccomanno are International Economists in the Office of Trade and Economic Analysis

This post contains external links. Please review our external linking policy. 

Across the globe, businesses of every shape and size are reopening doors and welcoming back customers. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted economies and industries everywhere, but this unique moment of economic recovery offers U.S. companies an exciting opportunity to explore new international markets for exporting American products.

If you’re unsure how essential exporting is to our economy, consider the facts:

  • Businesses that export are less likely to go out of business, record higher revenues, create more jobs, and pay higher wages than those that don’t.
  • An average of 12% of the U.S. economy has consisted of exports every year for the past decade.
  • The U.S. only accounts for 4% of the world’s population, which means there are plenty of markets and customers to explore.

We previously looked at the unusual export and import trends of 2020 and for 2021 will be issuing monthly updates to help us understand the economy’s performance. 2019 is also an important year for us to study, as it provides a baseline for us to understand the profile of U.S. exporters before the pandemic hit.

What goods & services does the U.S. export?

From mattresses to ice cream to financial services, the U.S. exports a huge variety of goods and services from every sector.

Tree map comparing the values of different U.S. goods and services exports, with capital goods and industrial supplies holding the largest portions.
Figure 1: Sources: U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis. The small boxes at the bottom right are construction services and net exports under merchanting.

The United States. is globally competitive in many manufactured products. Aircraft, cars and parts, and semiconductors are our largest manufactured goods exports. Other key exports are agricultural products, with 20-25% of all food grown in the U.S. exported, and oil. Just as impressive are U.S. service exports like travel, business services, research, and intellectual property. We are the single largest exporter of services in the world; 14% of all global services exports originate here. Prior to the pandemic, U.S. travel and tourism averaged roughly $200 billion per year, and product R&D and intellectual property licensing combined averaged $144 billion per year.

What countries receive the most U.S. exports?

The largest destination for U.S. goods and services exports are Mexico and Canada, our neighbors and free trade partners in the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA). China, the United Kingdom and Japan also account for large shares of U.S. exports. Combined, these trade partners accounted for 43% of U.S. exports in 2019.

Where are U.S. exporters?

Exporters come from every pocket and community in the United States. Each state exports a variety of goods and greatly contributes to the diversity of American exports. For example:

  • Texas is a center of oil and chemical production.
  • California’s tech industry and orchards are world leaders.
  • New York is a global hub for precious metals.
  • Washington is a center of aircraft manufacturing.
A heat map of the U.S. showing the relative amount of good exports from each state with Texas and California being the largest.
Figure 2: Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Exports by Origin of Movement (origin state-based)

Exporting is not just a game for the biggest states, though. Per person, South Carolina, Delaware, and Puerto Rico each export more goods than California.

What about U.S. small business exports?

Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of the U.S. economy: they create two-thirds of net new jobs and account for more than 40% of the U.S. economy. 97.4% of all goods exporters are SMEs. By export value, large exporters make up two-thirds of goods exports ($996 billion), while SMEs make up the remaining third ($460 billion).

Bar charts showing SMEs and large exporters by company type. Their values in 2019 were $288,063 and the exporters exported $1,455 billion.
Figure 3: Source: U.S. Census Bureau

What jobs are supported by exports?

U.S. exporters directly support U.S. jobs. According to ITA’s research, goods and services exports supported about 10.7 million jobs in 2019. Each $1 billion of exports supports about 5,095 jobs. Additionally, export-intensive industries pay more, on average, than those that sell mostly domestically. Workers employed in manufacturing industries that export earn 19% more  than their peers who work in manufacturing industries that don’t export. 

Trade with Mexico and Canada (through USMCA) and Asia support the most goods-related jobs, and trade with Europe supports the most services jobs. More manufacturing jobs are supported by the U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade zone than by any other region.

Bar graph with jobs supported by goods and services divided by region in 2019. USMCA supported the highest number of goods-producing jobs where as exports to Europe supported the highest number of services jobs.
Figure 4: Source: Office of Trade and Economic Analysis, International Trade Administration

The International Trade Administration regularly monitors U.S. trade patterns. If you’re interested in learning more, all this data, including interactive visualizations, can be found at https://www.trade.gov/trade-data-analysis.

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Trade Remedies: Ensuring a Free and Fair International Trade System

May 12, 2021

Eric Anderson and Ava Jamerson are International Trade Specialists in the Enforcement & Compliance Office of Communications

At the core of President Biden’s Build Back Better initiative is economic recovery that drives wage growth and leads to better outcomes for all Americans. International trade is a key component this recovery, and in honor of World Trade Month, we’re taking a closer look at how the International Trade Administration (ITA) supports a fair, and rules-based system of trade that both defends and empowers American workers and manufacturers.  

Many people know about ITA’s efforts to promote exports overseas, but ITA is also home to the Enforcement and Compliance (E&C) Unit, which administers trade remedies on imported products that are designed to rebalance the international trading system in the face of unfair trade practices like dumping or unfair pricing.

E&C teams are charged with the critical responsibility to take action when unfair trade practices threaten American competitiveness. The strongest tool that we use to maintain healthy competition in international trade is enforcing U.S. trade remedy statutes, which authorize E&C to investigate and, if necessary, apply antidumping (AD) and countervailing duties (CVD). But what, exactly, are antidumping and countervailing duties, how do they work, and why are they essential to a balanced system of global trade?

Antidumping duties are imposed when a foreign company undervalues its product when selling in the American market; countervailing duties are enacted when foreign governments provide unfair subsidies to an industry, which can result in artificially low prices for imports. These unfair trade practices have the potential to damage the competing U.S. industry. Some industries may be large enough to weather the damages caused by undervalued imports, but small and medium sized businesses are often unable to do so and therefore need effective relief from unfairly traded goods. The U.S. currently has AD/CVD duties in effect on 597 products from around the world – 37 percent of them cover products imported from China, and it is estimated that in recent years, the United States collected approximately $2.3 billion as a result of AD/CVDs. These trade remedies stabilize the market and hold foreign governments responsible for conducting trade in a fair and equitable manner.

Our trade remedy actions are bolstered by the work done by E&C’s Trade Agreements Negotiations and Compliance team which works with foreign governments on behalf of American companies to remove technical barriers to trade, and the Foreign-Trade Zones program which provides companies with a range of benefits, including streamlined customs procedures, to keep their business in the United States.

As our economy begins to rebound from the devastation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, trade remedies are essential component of building back better. They defend American jobs, help level the playing field for American businesses and industries, and contribute to a fair and equitable international trading system. If you’d like to learn more about the AD/CVD duties, please visit ITA’s webpage on U.S. Antidumping and Countervailing Duties.

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The Silver Linings of Virtual Commercial Diplomacy

May 6, 2021

David De Falco is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Europe and Eurasia

Screen shot from a virtual meeting between David De Falco and others

The pandemic has shaken up how everyone does business across the globe. As a team and an organization, all of us at ITA have had to adapt to the many challenges of working virtually from home. But what about the work of commercial diplomacy, where developing and maintaining close working relationships with our foreign counterparts and U.S. companies is essential? Can such work be done virtually?

As the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Europe, I have grown accustomed to meeting my colleagues face-to-face. As such, I was initially skeptical about the logistics and impact of a ‘virtual trip’ when my team proposed an initial visit to the Republic of Georgia back in December 2020 and also more recently for Ukraine for April 2021. However, the ITA teams for each country approached our foreign counterparts and U.S. private sector contacts and galvanized enthusiastic support for these engagements. Having now completed two successful virtual trips, I’m convinced that such engagements can lead to tangible outcomes for U.S. companies. Even when we go back to travelling, I think a virtual or hybrid model can still be used very effectively to increase the cadence of our interactions.

Despite being virtual, the trips still had most of the same elements you would expect to see with an in-person trip. I met with dozens of Georgian and Ukrainian ministry officials and their staff, advocated for specific U.S. business interests in coordination with ITA’s Advocacy Center, and collaborated with Embassy colleagues and AmCham members to better align on the mission’s bilateral trade priorities.

While U.S. trade with Georgia and Ukraine is relatively low, commercial diplomacy can help accelerate economic reform efforts in these key strategic markets creating the conditions needed for U.S. business to compete on a level playing field against increased Chinese competition. As a result of my meetings with Georgian officials, two key issues of our cooperation with Georgia in 2021 were established focusing on further engagement in the logistics sector and activities focused on bringing U.S. and Georgian Information Communication Technology companies together to explore business opportunities.

In Ukraine, where U.S. companies see sizeable opportunities in the railway, maritime, and agriculture sector, I discussed with the Infrastructure Minister ways U.S. companies could assist Ukraine’s $60 billion infrastructure modernization efforts and ways our two nations can partner on renewable energy initiatives to address the growing climate crisis. My team is now following up on my visit, supporting the advancement of a major railway project and a small nuclear modular reactor project in Ukraine, which are key priorities for the new Administration as we work to help Ukraine reduce dependence on Russian energy.

While there is a certain je ne c’est quoi that will always make in-person trips the preferred method for commercial diplomacy, with two successful trips under our belt on the Global Markets Europe team, my team and I wanted to share some lighthearted, but genuine thoughts and reflections on the silver linings we’ve identified about commercial diplomacy in a virtual era:

  • Logistical planning – While any visit requires extensive planning, one positive element of virtual trips is that you don’t need to spend time on visas, flight arrangements, ground transport and accommodations, which free up valuable hours to dedicate to other efforts, such as additional engagements. Furthermore, there are fewer logistical concerns, e.g. the spillover effect of meetings running overtime, transportation between locations, etc.
  • Creatively inviting other experts – One advantage of a virtual visit is that, if it’s to our advantage to add in additional delegation members whose expertise or presence would be valuable for certain meetings, they don’t need to expend significant time or money just to travel to single meeting or two. If it’s advantageous to have colleagues from other U.S. Government entities, such as the Export-Import Bank, U.S. Trade Representative, or other Commerce offices join a particular meeting, it’s a lot easier to click ‘join meeting’ on a computer vs. fret over travel logistics.
  • No jet lag – While you may have to begin the day’s events at a potentially very early hour, there is no doubt that an early meeting is preferable to entering a meeting having just got off a plane mere hours beforehand. Commercial diplomacy engagements often involve lengthy, detailed discussions and negotiations over complex subjects. As such, there is something to be said about being able to begin a series of intense meetings well rested.

Of course, my team and I all look forward when we can safely return to engaging with our counterparts in a face-to-face setting. Regardless, the virtual transition we’ve adapted to over the past year hasn’t been all bad—there’s always a silver lining… or in our case, three.

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Celebrate the Power of Travel During National Travel and Tourism Week 2021

May 3, 2021

Gina M. Raimondo is the U.S. Secretary of Commerce 

This post contains external links. Please review our external linking policy. 

This post originally appeared on the Department of Commerce blog.

Travel has the power to connect people with places and expose us to new cultures and ways of life. For well over a year, Americans made difficult decisions to forgo personal travel and business trips to protect ourselves, our families, friends, and communities from the COVID-19 pandemic. As we mark National Travel and Tourism Week (May 2-8, 2021), I am hopeful for the future as travelers who are fully vaccinated can begin to travel safely.  

The U.S. travel and tourism industry has been disproportionately affected by the economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, with small businesses that rely on new and returning visitors hit particularly hard. In 2020 employment in the travel-dependent leisure and hospitality sector declined by 3.3 million, accounting for more than a third (37%) of the overall decline in non-farm employment last year. At the same time, international visitation to the United States declined 76%.

In response to a deflated travel and tourism sector and its immense impact on our economy and people, the U.S. government and President Biden took swift and decisive action.  

President Biden’s American Rescue Plan will provide significant aid to communities that have suffered economic injury related to these declines. Specifically, $750 million has been allotted to the Economic Development Administration (EDA) for these states and communities hit hardest in the travel, tourism, or outdoor recreation sectors. Accordingly, I met with the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board and heard its recommendations on initiatives to support leisure and business travel, including infrastructure and non-infrastructure projects that would be most impactful for these communities as they respond and recover from COVID-19.  

In addition, the International Trade Administration’s National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO) has developed several new tools for the industry’s use, principal among them the COVID-19 Travel Industry Monitor. The Monitor includes key indicators from the Small Business Pulse Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, and snapshot data in six key areas:  COVID-19, International Visitation, Trade in Travel, Key Economic Indicators, Travel Indicators, and Sentiment. More information on this useful tool can be found here.  

We must reignite the travel and tourism industry, but we must do so safely and inclusively, working to provide equitable relief to Americans in every part of the country. National Travel and Tourism Week 2021 offers us a moment to reflect on how far we’ve come in the face of a global crisis and a chance to celebrate the power of travel to fill our souls and fuel our nation’s economic prosperity. Restoring Americans’ spirits and recovering our nation’s economy will not be possible without this important industry.  

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25 Years Later: Honoring the Memory of the Lives Lost on April 3, 1996

April 2, 2021

Diane Farrell is the Acting Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade

A stainless steel cross memorializes Secretary Ronald H. Brown and 34 others in Croatia.
A stainless steel cross memorializes Secretary Ronald H. Brown and 34 others in Croatia.

April 3, 1996 is a somber day in the history of the U.S. Department of Commerce and the International Trade Administration (ITA). On that day 25 years ago, a flight carrying Secretary of Commerce Ronald H. Brown and 34 others crashed in poor weather on approach to Dubrovnik, Croatia and all aboard perished. Among the victims were 11 other Commerce officials, including five of our own from ITA.

They were on a trade mission to not only support U.S. business interests, but to assist and enable the development of a newly independent Croatia. In the words of President Bill Clinton, they were on a “mission of peace and hope,” and “[t]hey believe that America, through their efforts, could help to restore a broken land, help to heal a people of their hatreds, help to bring a better tomorrow through honest work and shared enterprise.”

This is important work and it is the work we do at ITA.

We honor their legacy by presenting awards in their memory each year. I would like to ask you to please take a moment with me to commemorate those five ITA employees whose loss we still feel.

ITA Employees from left to right: Stephen Kaminski, Charles Meissner, Bill Morton, Lawrence Payne, Naomi Warbasse

Stephen Kaminski, 40, was a Senior Commercial officer in the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service serving in Vienna, Austria and developing Commerce’s strategy for Croatia and Bosnia. He joined the Department of Commerce as an international economist for the Maritime Administration in 1975 and went on to serve postings as a commercial officer in Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Tokyo, and Washington, D.C. For his work in Japan, Stephen was awarded the Department of Commerce Gold Award for working to ensure U.S. companies would enjoy access to major projects in Japanese markets. Each year, ITA awards The Stephen C. Kaminski Award in Stephen’s honor to the ITA employee who exercised the greatest degree of diplomatic skill and ability in furthering trade relations with one or more of America’s trading partners during the previous year. Stephen hailed from Baltimore, Maryland and was a graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

Charles “Chuck” Meissner, 54, was serving as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for International Economic Policy and responsible for international commercial policy development. He was the key policy adviser to Secretary Brown in promoting economic stability in the post-war environment. Prior to his work in ITA, Chuck spent 20 years in the private and public sectors working on financial, monetary, and trade policy. He began his government career as the Japan Desk Officer and Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary for International Affairs at the Department of Treasury in 1971 and held distinguished posts as part of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, throughout the State Department, on the Economic Committee of NATO and as the U.S. negotiator on North-South issues in the United Nations and others at the Chemical Bank and World Bank. The Charles F. Meissner Award is awarded by ITA every year in Chuck’s honor to the ITA unit that best exemplified the ideals of dedication to excellence, selfless commitment to duty, and cooperation with others in the accomplishment of ITA goals during the previous year. Chuck was a Wisconsin native, held three degrees from the University of Wisconsin, and received multiple decorations during his U.S. Army service in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970.

William “Bill” Morton, 35, was serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Development and was a long-time trusted aid to Secretary Brown coordinating the Secretary’s travel and helping develop, manage, and implement Secretary Brown’s trade missions and conferences. He was a consistent help in shaping the purpose, tone, message, and logistics for Secretary Brown. Bill previously served in the Department as Assistant Director for Operations and Regional Management at the Minority Business Development Agency where he oversaw the operations of five regional offices, four district offices, and Washington, D.C.-based staff. The William E. Morton Award is awarded in Bill’s honor each year to the ITA employee who made the strongest contribution during the previous year to increasing opportunities, within ITA or in the U.S. international trading community, for members of historically disadvantaged groups. Bill was a Georgetown University graduate and a Colorado native.

Lawrence “Lawry” Payne, 41, was a Special Assistant in the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service’s Office of Domestic Operations. Prior to his service in the Department of Commerce, Lawry had staffed former Senator Paul Tsongas as a legislative assistant focused on trade and foreign policy issues, worked on multiple presidential campaigns, spent time on Wall Street, and was the owner and operator of an independent chain of homemade gourmet ice cream and yogurt shops in New England. The Lawrence M. Payne Award is awarded to the ITA employee who did the most to create and facilitate cooperative efforts between the public and private sectors to promote international trade during the prior year in Lawry’s honor. Lawry was a bicyclist and photographer with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and a Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School.

Naomi Warbasse was the Deputy Director of the Central and Eastern Europe Business Information Center (CEEBIC) and at 24 was the youngest of the delegation. As part of her duties with CEEBIC, Naomi provided business counseling to U.S. companies interested in exporting to or investing Central and Eastern European countries with a focus on CEEBIC’s Poland and Bosnia programs. She was also the desk officer for Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Among her accomplishments with Commerce were working White House conferences for trade and investment in Central and Eastern Europe and Ireland and the Fourth West-East Conference of Ministers of Economy, Industry and Trade of the G-7 and Reforming Countries. The Naomi P. Warbasse Award is awarded to the most outstanding new ITA employee exemplifying the ideals of excellence, dedication and achievement in Naomi’s honor each year. Naomi began her studies at Johns Hopkins University at 16 and after receiving her Bachelor’s in Political Science, earns a Masters in Eastern European Studies at George Washington University.

Our five ITA colleagues, led by Secretary Brown, were accompanied by 29 other U.S. government officials, corporate executives, aircrew, Croatian citizens and media who also lost their lives in this noble pursuit. Let us also remember them.

U.S. Department of Commerce

  • Duane Christian, Security Officer
  • Adam N. Darling, Confidential Assistant, Office of the Deputy Secretary
  • Gail E. Dobert, Deputy Director, Acting Director, Office of Business Liaison
  • Carol L. Hamilton, Press Secretary and Acting Director of the Office of Public Affairs
  • Kathryn E. Hoffman, Special Assistant to the Secretary
  • Kathryn E. Kellogg, Confidential Assistant, Office of Business Liaison

Other U.S. Government agencies

  • Lee F. Jackson, Executive Director, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), U.S. Department of Treasury
  • James M. Lewek, Economic Reconstruction Expert, Interagency Balkan Task Force, Central Intelligence Agency

Corporate Executives

  • Barry L. Conrad, Chairman and Chief Executive of the Barrington Group, Miami
  • Paul Cushman III, Chairman and Chief Executive of Riggs International Banking Corp., Washington, DC
  • Robert E. Donovan, President and Chief Executive of ABB Inc., Norwalk, CT
  • Claudio Elia, Chairman and Chief Executive of Air & Water Technologies Corp., Branchburg, NJ
  • David Ford, President and Chief Executive of InterGuard Corp., the Luxembourg Subsidiary of Guardian Industries, Auburn Hills, MI
  • Frank Maier, President of Enserch International Ltd., Dallas
  • Walter J. Murphy, Vice President of Global Sales at AT&T Submarine Systems, Morristown, NJ
  • Leonard J. Pieroni, Chairman and Chief Executive of Parsons Corp., Pasadena, CA
  • John Scoville, Chairman of Harza Engineering Co., Chicago
  • Donald Terner, President of Bridge Housing Corp., San Francisco
  • Stuart Tholan, Senior Vice President of Bechtel Enterprises, San Francisco
  • Robert A. Whittaker, Vice President of Foster Wheeler Corp., Clinton, NJ

Media

  • Nathaniel C. Nash, New York Times, Frankfurt Bureau Chief

Crew

  • Captain Ashley J. Davis, Pilot
  • Captain Timothy W. Schafer, Co-Pilot
  • Staff Sgt. Gerald Aldrich, Crew Chief and Flight Mechanic
  • Staff Sgt. Robert Farrington Jr., Steward
  • Technical Sgt. Shelly A. Kelly, Steward
  • Technical Sgt. Cheryl A. Turnage, Steward

Croatians

  • Niksa Antonini, Photographer
  • Dragica Lendic Bebek, Interpreter

Again, the words of President Clinton spoken at Dover Air Force Base 25 years ago are appropriate to recall again today: “In their memory and in their honor, let us resolve to continue their mission of peace and healing and progress.” The work continues.