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Advisory Committees Provide U.S. Exporters with a Voice in the Trade Policy Process

Global News - Americas

WASHINGTON, DC – The federal government and U.S. business community are looking to reinvigorate U.S. exports in 2010. They have an opportunity to reap mutual benefits by sharing their knowledge of trade policy and industry needs through Industry Trade Advisory Commmittees. It’s no great secret that 2009 was a challenging year for U.S. companies. The global downturn caused by the international financial crisis reverberated across the U.S. economy. Credit tightened and businesses confronted difficult times. As we ring in 2010, companies are cautiously optimistic that the economy is moving out of the recession.

Hoping to expand U.S. exports by leveraging a weak dollar, many U.S. companies are looking to actively engage with Industry Trade Advisory Committees (ITACs) to provide advice to the U.S. government on multilateral, bilateral, and regional trade negotiations and other trade-related policy matters that can better position their industry sectors for a new year of commercial success.

16 Committees, Quarterly Meetings

The ITACs, which are jointly administered by the Department of Commerce and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, are unique forums for industry executives and business representatives that help them advance their understanding of trade issues and share their perspectives on policy formulation.

The ITAC framework comprises 16 committees. They meet independently on at least a quarterly basis, and the sectors represented in the different ITACs include both manufacturing and services. This structure includes industries that play a variety of roles in the U.S. economy.

In their work, the ITACs discuss and consider trade barriers, U.S. trade policy, and the negotiation of trade agreements, providing government officials with forward-looking opinions on the development of U.S. trade policy. Both the government and industry benefit from the partnership. “Working with ITAC members is a great opportunity for the government to obtain critical insight from industry experts across the country,” notes Michael Masserman, director of the Office of Advisory Committees at the Department of Commerce.

Industry Trade Advisory Committees (ITACs) - The 16 committees that provide input on U.S. trade policy: ITAC 1 aerospace equipment, ITAC 2 automotive equipment and capital goods, ITAC 3 chemicals, pharmaceuticals, health/science products and services, ITAC 4 consumer goods, ITAC 5 distribution services, ITAC 6 energy and energy services, ITAC 7 forest products, ITAC 8 information and communications technologies, services and electronic commerce, ITAC 9 non-ferrous metals and building materials, ITAC 10 services and finance business, ITAC 12 steel, ITAC 13 textiles and clothing, ITAC 14 customs matters and trade facilitation, ITAC 15 intellectual property rights, ITAC 16 standards and technical trade barriers.

Small Business Input Sought

A new policy has made federally registered lobbyists ineligible for service on advisory boards and commissions. This modification has the potential to give small and medium-sized enterprises a more prominent voice in advising the government on trade policy. To that end, the Office of Advisory Committees at the Department of Commerce is looking to add new companies to the various ITACs.

Experience in a World Forum

Company representatives that participate in ITACs provide a practical public service that improves the development of trade policy. Jeffrey Ruffner, president and chief executive officer of MSE Technologies in Butte, Montana, and a member of the Small and Minority Business ITAC since 2001, has directly experienced that service. “Although foreign trade is only a part of my business, I believe it is the future, and my time is well served as a member of an ITAC,” said Ruffner.

Chosen by lot for one of two available slots designated for his ITAC, Ruffner spent several days this past November in Geneva, Switzerland, with the U.S. delegation to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

After being briefed by the U.S. delegates on the major issues at the WTO talks, Ruffner gained a stronger comprehension of the trade climate and conditions in countries such as Brazil, China, and India. “[Those countries] are the future of international business,” he noted. Reflecting on his experiences in Geneva, Ruffner acknowledged that he became more aware of the impediments to trade that often stall international business, and he described his public service advisory role as “tremendously refreshing.”

Knowledge of the Regulatory Environment

Another ITAC member, Liam Weston, senior program manager at Ball Aerospace and Technologies in Boulder, Colorado, also said he benefits from his involvement with his advisory committee, the Aerospace ITAC. As head of international and commercial business development, Weston, during his nine years of participation, has examined important trade issues to his industry and has contributed to discussions that benefited key decision makers in setting U.S. trade policy.

Satellites are the primary product manufactured and sold by Ball. (One particular line of satellites was sold to the company that provides the images for Google Earth.) But sales of satellites are highly regulated because of the critical technological components involved in their production. “The ITACs serve as a vital forum for us to learn about the regulations that affect our products,” noted Weston.

For companies looking to rebound in 2010, the ITACs undoubtedly will continue to play an influential role in advising the U.S. government on U.S. trade policy.

Arash Massoudi is a confidential assistant to the under secretary in the International Trade Administration.

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