Committees Give Voice to Industry and Small Business in Formation of Trade Policy

February 6, 2010

Laura Hellstern has been with the International Trade Administration for 19 years.  She currently serves as a trade specialist in the Office of Domestic Operations, U.S. Commercial Service.  She is also the Designated Federal Officer for ITAC 11 (Industry Trade Advisory Committee for Small and Minority Business) 

At an Industry Trade Advisory Committee meeting recently, one of the members leaned forward in his seat, an earnest look on his face as he peered at the U.S. Trade Representative official at the front of the room. Speaking emphatically and slowly, he explained in detail how he felt small businesses were impacted as pending trade agreements wait to be enacted.

Most Industry Trade Advisory Committee (ITAC) 11 meetings are not quite that dramatic, but tensions can be high as members seek to help U.S. government officials understand which actions they believe will better help small and minority businesses to compete in global markets.  And they do understand!  U.S. Government policy makers rely on ITACs to identify trade barriers and provide advice on key objectives and bargaining positions for multilateral, bilateral, and regional trade negotiations, and all trade policy matters. As a result, the United States is able to display a united front when it negotiates trade agreements with other nations. Our negotiating position is strengthened because its objectives are developed with bipartisan, private-sector input throughout the negotiations.

ITAC 11 is just one of 16 ITACs administered by the Department of Commerce in joint cooperation with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.  Established under the Trade Act of 1974 to ensure that trade negotiators were consulting with the private sector, Industry Trade Advisory Committees link industry and the U.S. Government, giving industry a voice in formulating the trade policy of the United States. Currently there are 375 industry advisors, appointed by the Commerce Secretary the U.S. Trade Representative, and providing valuable input as the Administration advances its trade agenda.  ITACs advise on whether trade agreements promote the economic interests of the United States and achieve negotiating objectives, and whether the agreements are fair to all types of U.S. businesses.  ITACs reflect the manufacturing and services sectors of the U.S. economy, as well as cross-cutting issues (IPR, customs, standards).

Among the many ways that the International Trade Administration helps advance international trade, the ITAC system is an empowering tool through which U.S. businesses can provide their perspective on U.S. trade policy.   Being an ITAC advisor is not for everyone, but anyone who represents a U.S. entity or organization engaged in international trade, and who is not a federally-registered lobbyist, registered foreign agent or government employee can apply.  Advisors are, among other professions, trade consultants, lawyers, financial consultants, international sales managers, and trade organization representatives.   The companies and organizations they represent are big and small manufacturers, law firms, financial institutions, trade organizations, World Trade Centers, Chambers of Commerce – the list is long.  Applicants are appointed based on representation of their sponsoring entity or organization’s interests on trade matters, their in-depth knowledge of and experience in international trade, and the balance of each ITAC in terms of geography, size of entity represented and industry sector.    ITAC members meet several times each year, usually in Washington, DC.  Members are expected to attend as many meetings as possible, and must do so at the expense of their representative company.

Designed to represent small and minority businesses, ITAC 11 is a multi-industry committee that focuses on making sure that trade negotiations and policies don’t make it difficult for small and minority businesses to enter and sustain international business.  The U.S. International Trade Commission’s report “Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises: Overview of Participation in U.S. Exports,” notes that only “1% of small businesses export.”  Along with ITA and its trade promotion efforts, committees like ITAC 11 help combat that dismal statistic by opening up communications between industry and government and making government more responsive to the needs of those “engines of international trade,”  the small business.  ITAC 11 turns up the volume when small and minority business speaks.

I have been a “Designated Federal Officer” (I act as liaison between members and the Industry Trade Advisory Center) for the Small/Minority Business ITAC for more than four years, and I continue to be impressed with the effectiveness of the ITAC structure and its ability to give voice to the needs of small and minority businesses.  And the members’ passion and commitment to providing input to is an amazing thing to see.   I urge anyone interested in making an impact on trade policy to visit http://www.trade.gov/ and click on “Become an Industry Trade Advisor”  for more information.

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