USCIB Op-ed: It’s Time to Save NAFTA

USCIB President and CEO Peter M. Robinson has joined ICC Mexico Chair Maria Fernanda Garza and Canadian Chamber of Commerce CEO Perrin Beatty in publishing an op-ed, “A trade deal in distress: It’s time to save NAFTA,” in The Hill.

The op-ed has also been published in Spanish in the Mexican newspaper El Economista.

The op-ed comes as negotiators from the United States, Canada and Mexico take stock following the most recent round of talks, which exposed divisions between the U.S. and its two neighbors on a variety of issues.

The three business leaders express their support of efforts to improve and modernize NAFTA. They also state their concern over proposals that they believe are inconsistent with the principles of free trade and free enterprise, calling them “a dramatic reversal of long-held U.S. trade policy objectives” that “would greatly restrict, rather than enhance, cross-border commerce.”

Please click here to read the op-ed in its entirety on The Hill’s website.

Business Makes It Happen: American Business at the UN General Assembly

By Peter M. Robinson
President and CEO
United States Council for International Business

 

“We live in a complex world. The United Nations cannot succeed alone. Partnership must continue to be at the heart of our strategy. We should have the humility to acknowledge the essential role of other actors, while maintaining full awareness of our unique convening power.”

-Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General

The 72nd United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) gets under way this week at a time of stresses and strains in the international community. The nature of these stresses is particularly acute for the U.S. business community: a growing need for financing and investment in infrastructure, the open trading system called into question, and calls by some for a retreat from engagement in multilateral forums. How does American business plan for these challenges, and where can we make the biggest difference?

For USCIB and its members, an important place to start tackling these questions is the UN’s 2030 Development Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a framework that will be at the center of this week of high-level meetings, also known as Global Goals Week.

In the face of challenges such as unemployment, climate change and population growth around the world, USCIB believes we have to pursue the SDGs as “must-wins” for the United States and for the American business community. We know that economic growth abroad helps create jobs at home. Open markets and policies that foster private investment offers new markets for our products. Innovation aimed at improved sustainability give the U.S. a leg-up in global competition while advancing investment in energy sources and new technologies to combat climate change.

That is why, this week, USCIB is holding a series of discussions on the margins of the UNGA to cultivate the “ingredients for impact” to catalyze business contributions to the SDGs. We are doing this under the theme, “Business Makes It Happen,” because we believe that, without strong commitment and incentives for the private sector, we won’t be able to achieve the Global Goals.

USCIB supports multilateral solutions to global challenges, with business constructively involved. We rely on solid, long-term dialogue and a close working relationship with both our government and the UN system to advance U.S. business contributions to sustainable development, delivering economic benefits at home and abroad. When it comes to what business depends on to succeed, thrive and lift the American economy, we look to Washington, D.C., and to the United Nations. We depend on both, and that is why USCIB has chosen to step forward as a U.S. business organization, working closely with our partners in the U.S. government as UNGA gets underway.

The Three I’s

The 2030 Agenda provides a blueprint for action that enjoys wide business and government support. But there are still three broad challenges in terms of implementation by business – inclusiveness, innovation and information.

  • Information: While there is more and better information available from companies on SDG action, we are overwhelmed with the quantity of data, and so we – business, governments — don’t know where to begin to understand or prioritize action. We have too much information and not enough analysis. The business community needs to develop ways to present its progress that are accessible and relevant for the international community and national governments.
  • Innovation, which is the best source of solutions for sustainability, still faces obstacles due to a lack of proper incentives for researchers, inventors and investors. The UN must do better in creating a fully welcoming environment and institutional framework for technology innovation that is genuinely involving business experts.
  • Inclusiveness: A basic tenet of the Agenda for 2030 is that no one is left behind. That suggests that everyone needs to be involved to deliver solutions. Yet in some UN forums, the private sector is still not regarded as a full partner in the effort. At times, there are still political sensitivities when business wants to come to the table, or even just listen in on policy deliberations. Clearly, we in business need to do more to demonstrate commitment and deliver actual results.

Statements by both United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres and President of the General Assembly Miroslav Lajčák suggest that, under their leadership in the UNGA this year, we could see progress towards a more inclusive and transparent framework to involve the business community across the board. USCIB would endorse and welcome such a development.

By their very nature, many of the SDGs depend on partnerships to be implemented, and we regard business as indispensable in collaborative action to deliver the SDGs. On its 2nd anniversary, the USCIB web platform, Business for 2030, now showcases 200 initiatives from 52 companies, in over 150 countries, covering 85 of the 169 SDG targets. These encompass both philanthropic and corporate responsibility initiatives as well as core business operations that all contribute to achieving one or more of the 17 SDG targets.

Progress has been made, as witnessed by the strong response to this year’s SDG Business Forum on the margins of last July’s High-Level Political Forum – it literally filled the UN’s largest room, the General Assembly Hall. Governments and the UN have to continue to create those new kinds of spaces in which that exchange on policy and practice can occur substantively and with good governance.

With our affiliations to leading global business organizations embedded in the UN system, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the International Organization of Employers (IOE), we have been fortunate to be on the front lines of the collaborative discussions that brought forward the SDGs, and to foster recognized opportunities for the private sector to cooperate with the UN. The process of multilateralism does move slowly, demanding investment of time and effort, but the rewards are outcomes in which business is invested and knows what to expect.

It is already clear to USCIB that one element of success towards efficiency and effectiveness in the reform of the UN is to create the most open and inclusive institutional structures to consult with representative business bodies, and then to recognize and include those inputs. We have seen time and again how the ILO, the OECD and other inter-governmental forums have demonstrated that including business in a recognized manner is a value add because it is brings on board those societal partners that invest, innovate and implement.

At USCIB, we are more convinced than ever that a more open and accountable policy dialogue, with recognized involvement of representative business groups, is a fundamental element of good governance (which is in fact the aim of SDG16), and will deliver real results. By and large, UN bodies are involving business in more substantive ways, and we are looking forward to this year’s UNGA to keep that discussion going, particularly in the context of UN reform.

In his report laying out his vision of UN reform, Secretary General Guterres presents eight big ideas for reform of the UN system.  At the heart of those are the 17 big commitments which the global community made in 2015: the SDGs. Our main goal this week is to join the international dialogues and offer ways to make those big ideas a reality for, and with, U.S. business.

Throughout the negotiations leading to the SDGs, and now in the period of their execution, we have underscored the need for business to be embedded in the process. This is necessary to leverage all the resources that the private sector can provide through investment, innovation and know-how. With dialogue and the right mix of incentives, business really can make it happen and we will be working throughout this year’s UNGA to continue the evolution towards collaborative and impactful SDG partnerships with business.

USCIB Op-ed: NAFTA 2.0 Needs to Protect Investment

USCIB’s Vice President for Investment and Financial Services Shaun Donnelly along with its Director for Investment, Trade and Financial Services Eva Hampl recently contributed an op-ed in The Hill titled, “NAFTA 2.0 needs to enshrine investor protections.”

As the Trump administration gears up to update the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) later this month, Hampl and Donnelly evaluate the Trump administration’s negotiating objectives, which were released last month.

“Overall, the administration’s “NAFTA 2.0” wish-list is solid. Some commentators have noted the irony of including so many goals that were essentially attained in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement President Trump withdrew from on his third day in office,” they write. However, one of the more crucial objectives, mainly investor protection under the agreement’s Chapter 11 are not included.

“These provisions, which allow U.S. investors both small and large to seek compensation for unfair, discriminatory or inequitable treatment at the hands of foreign governments, are based on bedrock principles embedded in our own Constitution prohibiting abusive government treatment and the taking of private property without just compensation. Without this provision, domestic courts become the only legal recourse for a wronged investor. While Mexico has made great strides in many respects, its court system is still far from impartial. Indeed, miscarriages of justice can happen in any country, including advanced democracies like the United States and Canada,” they noted.

Please visit The Hill for the whole op-ed.

Robinson’s Op-ed in The Hill on Modernizing NAFTA

USCIB President and CEO Peter M. Robinson wrote an Op-ed in The Hill, “How to Modernize NAFTA: First, do no Harm.”

Robinson cites a recent study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, since the agreement’s implementation, U.S. trade with Canada and Mexico has more than tripled, with a positive impact on U.S. GDP of 0.5 percent, or several billion dollars of added growth per year.

However, he also writes that NAFTA needs to be updated in a way that solidifies the gains Americans have reaped from these transformations, while further enhancing our competitiveness.

The Op-ed is available here.

Potter Gives Statement on Climate Change at ILO Conference

USCIB Senior Counsel Ed Potter is currently attending the International Labor Organization (ILO) International Labor Conference (ILC) in Geneva, Switzerland (June 5-16) as a U.S. employer delegate. The ILC is discussing pressing global issues such as women at work, application of labor standards, peace and stability, migration and climate change.

Potter delivered the following statement on June 12 during the 2017 Plenary Statement on the Director General’s report on behalf of business regarding climate change and the Paris Agreement:

 

2017 Plenary Statement on the Director General’s Report

Adopted in 2015, the Paris Agreement on climate change is now the globally recognized framework for international climate action and represents a reset of the global approach to climate change.  Anything adopted by the ILO on climate change prior to 2015 should be reevaluated in light of the Paris Agreement.   The Paris Agreement is historic because it envisions self-determined actions and pledges by all countries, according to their priorities and resources.  Importantly, it eliminated the binary Kyoto annexes which divided 193 countries into 2 arbitrary categories.

We are concerned by language in the Director General’s Report that seems to over-simplify the challenge ahead, portraying a straightforward “green” vs. “dirty” choice of technologies, industries, products and jobs.  We do not live in a binary “green” job “brown” job world, and similarly we do not have “green” versus “brown” energy or technology.  The reality is more complex, and there are many other stakeholders involved – notably consumers.  The fact is that all industry sectors will need to transition to cleaner and more efficient operations and energy sources.  The scale of transformation required to meet Paris commitments cannot be met without business finding ways to respond to growing populations seeking reliable affordable energy sources to run businesses, schools, hospitals, etc.  Whether the discussion is on ICT and smart grids, or new ways to sequester carbon that could extend the use of fossil fuels while reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, or zero emissions transport, a fuller and more multi-dimensional picture of enterprises is needed.  It is not about the coal miner versus the solar panel installer – it is much more complex.

Transitions will be felt in the business community in the form of opportunities for new industries or products across a wider array of sectors than those normally referred to as “green” through supply and value chains and arising from regulations, costs or innovations that result in more disruptive change or harm to competitiveness.  Without growth and productive employment, there is less room for the successful protection of the environment and the promotion of decent work.  As enterprises are the primary source of job creation, a business-friendly environment remains an essential priority.   Sustainable jobs and sustainable businesses go hand in hand.

The Paris Agreement calls not just on governments but other societal partners, including the business community to act.  The business community has shown strong and continuous commitment to support the Paris Agreement and its implementation.  Delivering the Paris commitments depends on the full engagement of business and employers.  In fact, after my country’s recent withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, nearly 1000 large companies and investors joined a “We Are Still In” movement, representing 120 million Americans and 40 percent of the US economy at the state and municipal level.  Local attitudes are important and matter.

As highlighted in the Director General’s Report, over the past two years. the UNFCCC has launched its work on “Just Transition”.  Yet until last month, the UNFCCC did not adequately or directly involve business and employers on these topics – while the ILO has been consulted throughout, as has the ITUC.  It is only in the last 2 months that business or employer views have been communicated to the UNFCCC via a joint submission by the IOE and ICC, and by IOE and ICC participation in the May 9 Bonn meeting on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.   The Roundtable highlighted the need for enhanced involvement of employers and the need for direct consultation with them in the future on just transition and other employment related matters.  Tripartism is a cornerstone of this Organization and should apply both inside and outside the ILO.

Much of the Director General’s report focuses on the labor market churn that will occur as a result of the transition from “dirty” to “green” jobs.  The strong impression the reader gets from his Report is that climate change requires a dedicated, special program by the ILO.  Our view is that structural change and job impact of climate change is not at all dissimilar from other ongoing structural change resulting from technological change.  Ask any expert about the future of work and you will hear about a world dominated by artificial intelligence, 3D printing, an on-demand economy, and five generations in a virtual workplace where almost any worker can perform almost any work from anywhere they choose. The ILO approach to climate change needs to be knitted together and treated holistically with other ILO structural change initiatives and the future of work.

Thank you, Mr. President.

 

USCIB’s Customs Chair Writes on Trade, Customs in Adam Smith Project

USCIB’s Customs and Trade Facilitation Committee Chair and Vice President of Government and Trade Relations at Hanesbrands Jerry Cook recently posted commentary on the Adam Smith Project blog (formerly known as the American Shipper column).

The commentary urges all World Trade Organization (WTO) members to take necessary steps to join the World Customs Organization’s (WCO) Harmonized System Convention or commit to using it as the basis of the national customs tariff as well as commit to implementing the 2017 Harmonized System in a timely manner, seeking technical assistance from the WCO when applicable.

“The business world likes certainty,” Cook writes. “Understanding the factors that go into such landed costs as customs duties are key to assessing production and distribution costs. If there is any uncertainty over the common language of international trade, it can mean headaches, delay and extra cost.”

Read his commentary on the Adam Smith Project.

Kennedy Delivers Pro-Business Messages at UN Climate Meeting

USCIB’s Norine Kennedy at the UN climate talks in Bonn

USCIB’s expert on climate change and environment, Norine Kennedy attended the most recent UN climate change negotiations in Bonn, Germany from May 8-18. Kennedy participated at the 46th session of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI 46) which included a Workshop on Non-State Actors, at which she delivered a statement on behalf of Business and Industry groups attending the UN meetings on technology, implementation and the Paris Agreement.   Conclusions from the SBI focus on enabling frameworks for public and private sector climate action, and as such have important implications for the Paris Agreement.

On May 9, Kennedy participated in the SBI Workshop on Non-State Actors which was organized to explore new forms of engagement by business and other non-governmental groups.  Some developing country representatives and non-governmental groups advocated a limit or ban on business observers based on a distorted interpretation of “conflict of interest,” citing the World Health Organization’s Framework of Engagement for Non-State Actors (WHO FENSA) as a model.   However, government delegations from Australia, Canada, the EU, Norway, the U.S. and others spoke strongly in favor of full inclusiveness and the necessity of keeping business involved in the Paris Agreement.

“The purpose of this discussion is to extend inclusion and substantive cooperation, not to create a tribunal,” Kennedy cautioned during her intervention. “Most business groups are subject to abundant requirements for transparency in their national settings and then again here at the UNFCCC. There is almost no possibility of misrepresenting interests or members.  Governments and others know what the business interests are when they directly hear from them and they take that into account accordingly.”

Kennedy repeated and elaborated on these recommendations in an Op-Ed on TheHill.com on the importance of business participation in intergovernmental climate deliberations and partnerships, and was subsequently quoted by the New York Times and Le Monde. “The reason we were able to get the Paris Agreement in the first place was that the UN was willing to open their doors to a whole range of stakeholders, including business,” she stated in a May 16 New York Times piece entitled, “’Vulnerable Voices’ Lash Out as Companies Sway Climate Talks.”

Like it or Not, UN Needs Private Sector Input in Climate Talks

USCIB’s Norine Kennedy at the UN climate talks in Bonn

USCIB Vice President Norine Kennedy has an op-ed in The Hill today urging UN negotiators not to freeze the business community out of future discussion of climate change. The full text of the op-ed is available on The Hill’s website.

Kennedy, who attended the latest UN climate talks in Bonn last week, worked closely with the U.S. and other governments, as well as numerous business groups including the International Chamber of Commerce, to push back against proposals by a few governments and NGOs to curtail private-sector participation under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

 


 

The Hill

May 15, 2017

Like it or Not, UN Needs Private Sector Input in Climate Talks

By Norine Kennedy

BONN, GERMANY—As the current round of U.N. climate talks here in Bonn near their conclusion, delegates are allowing themselves a sense of cautious relief. The Trump administration has postponed a final decision on its continued involvement in the UN climate treaty – and the Paris Agreement concluded in 2015 – until after this meeting concludes on May 18. A hard-working, albeit smaller-than-usual, U.S. delegation is on hand, and the talks are moving ahead on a range of technical matters.

(Read the full text on The Hill’s website.)

 

 

USCIB in the News: Business and the UN Climate Process

USCIB Vice President Norine Kennedy and CEO Peter Robinson at COP21 in 2015.

The Financial Times has published a letter to the editor from USCIB Vice President Norine Kennedy on the role of business in the UN climate change talks — please see below. The op-ed is also available on the FT’s website.

Publication of this letter comes as UN members gather in Bonn, Germany for talks leading up to this December’s COP23 summit. A few governments and interest groups have called for new rules aimed at restricting the private sector’s participation in the UN climate process. Kennedy’s letter forcefully rebuts these efforts.


Financial Times

May 4, 2017

Letter

Business takes its climate responsibilities seriously

From Norine Kennedy, New York, NY, US

Sir, Regarding “Developing nations seek to reveal business influence on climate talks” (May 1): the UN is at its best when it opens its doors to all relevant stakeholders. Potential conflicts of interest pertain to all organisations, not just business associations. Business representatives are obliged to abide by all UN rules as a condition of their attendance at UN meetings.

We take this responsibility seriously. Just two years ago, my organisation joined others from around the world in celebrating the Paris Climate Agreement. The political will needed to reach consensus in Paris was spurred in part by support from business. Now, disappointingly, some wish to disinvite the private sector.

Since it is business that will deliver the lion’s share of the investment and innovation needed to confront the climate challenge — a fact recognised in the Paris Agreement — shouldn’t the conversation include business representatives? How else can governments and other stakeholders develop effective policy frameworks to unlock potentially game-changing solutions?

Norine Kennedy
Vice President, Energy and Environment,
United States Council for International Business,
New York, NY, US

USCIB Op-Ed: Time for Some ‘Tough Love’ at the UN

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley (credit: U.S. Mission to the UN)

The Hill has published an op-ed by USCIB President and CEO Peter Robinson on UN reform — see below. The op-ed is also available on The Hill’s website.

This op-ed follows on a letter to the New York Times on the same topic last month, as well as an op-ed on UN funding in January. It further advances USCIB’s position that the UN must work more effectively with the private sector and other stakeholders to advance shared goals.

 

The Hill

May 1, 2017

Opinion

Ambassador Haley needs to dole out some ‘tough love’ to United Nations

By Peter Robinson, opinion contributor

Critics of the United Nations are gaining ground in Washington. Proposals to defund and disengage from the U.N. have been put forward on Capitol Hill and by the Trump administration in its proposed budget.

As a longtime observer of, and participant in the U.N. representing the American business community, I’d like to offer some unsolicited advice to Ambassador Nikki R. Haley, the U.S. representative to the U.N., on how we could work to improve the global body.

The U.N. deserves a lot of the criticism being leveled at it. Many observers, myself included, acknowledge that parts of the U.N. system often suffer from poor management, an inability to efficiently set and meet priorities and the tendency to take an unbalanced view toward certain stakeholders.

This is evident in the organization’s attitude toward the private sector. There have indeed been positive experiences, such as in the U.N. 2030 Development Agenda, where the U.N. is reaching out to the private sector to meet commonly agreed goals of poverty reduction, environmental protection and better governance.

But too often, in many parts of the U.N. system, the business community is still regarded with suspicion, and its motives are called into question or criticized as a conflict of interest. With criticism of the U.N. on the rise, now is the time for the United States to push for effective reform. Here are four areas where the U.S. could exercise some “tough love” in the United Nations.

First, insist on good management. Financial resources are scarce, and we need to know that our taxpayer dollars are being used wisely. New U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres has pledged to make the organization leaner and more effective.

Work with him to increase the ability of the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services to act as a truly independent “inspector general” throughout the U.N. system, with direct reporting back to U.N. governing bodies authorized to take specific action on recommendations.

Second, demand more transparency and accountability. The U.N. has taken steps to open its doors to non-governmental entities, but much more needs to be done, particularly from the standpoint of the business community. Too often, the U.N. sets global norms and standards with little or no input from outside stakeholders, including the private sector.

This is unfortunate, especially given the extent to which business is looked to for funding, innovation and implementation in such areas as climate change, improved nutrition and better health care. In addition, some U.N. agencies, such as the World Health Organization, actively blacklist business organizations from even observing their activities. This damages the U.N.’s credibility and effectiveness.

Third, ensure the U.N. avoids redundancy and mission creep. While the U.N. plays a central role in global governance, it cannot and should not do everything or have the final say. United Nations negotiators are sometimes too eager to take up issues already being addressed elsewhere, like in global taxation, data and privacy issues, or intellectual property rights.

This not only wastes government time and money, it creates uncertainty and confusion for companies and everyone else. The U.S. should guide the U.N. and its specialized agencies to focus their resources on areas where they can add the most value and where they have a clear mandate.

One way to do this would be to develop stricter guidelines for voluntary contributions from member states, which are usually funds over and above assessed contributions for pet projects that often deviate from an agency’s mission.

Fourth, and perhaps most important, encourage the U.N. to partner with the private sector. Governments can’t do everything. The World Bank estimates that effectively tackling global problems of poverty, health, job creation and energy access will require trillions of dollars over the next 15 years, with much of that coming from the private sector in the form of project finance and foreign investment.

But this won’t happen if business views are sidelined or ignored. The U.S. should spur the U.N. to step up its partnerships with companies in such areas as innovation, infrastructure and investment.

Ambassador Haley should focus especially on U.N. agencies and bodies that have kept the business community in the dark or at arm’s length. Organizations such as the WHO and U.N. Human Rights Commission have drifted away from their core agendas and have enacted counterproductive restrictions on business — a key community which is keen to bring resources, expertise and implementation to advance their respective missions.

We should insist on inclusive and transparent governance in the U.N., with an open door for responsible actors from civil society, including the private sector.

The United Nations has made important progress, and it must continue to seek out new opportunities for collaboration that can improve lives and increase prosperity in the United States and around the world.  But none of this can happen if the United States is not at the table. The U.N. was in large part an American creation. It’s going to be up to us to try to fix it.

Peter M. Robinson is president and CEO of the United States Council for International Business.