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 Supports an EU-U.S. Privacy Shield Framework

On the occasion of the first joint review of the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield Framework, USCIB reaffirmed support for the Framework and issued a statement underscoring its importance in ensuring continued robust and reliable transatlantic data flows, which have proved vital for healthy U.S.-EU commercial relations.

In just one year, nearly 2,500 U.S. business entities have self-certified with the Department of Commerce and publicly committed to comply with the Framework requirements – with many of them already in the process of re-certifying.

“This impressive ‘track record’ substantiates our view that many U.S. companies see the potential of the Framework to provide greater legal certainty and consumer confidence in data transfers,” said Barbara Wanner, USCIB’s vice president for ICT policy. “In the longer term, this will promote commercial activities and investments yielding increased economic and societal benefits on both sides of the Atlantic,” she added.

USCIB highlighted three important points for consideration in the Annual Review: (1) the Framework is realizing stronger personal data protections; (2) the Framework is serving as an effective mechanism for certification by Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs); and (3) the longevity of the Framework remains important.

USCIB Discourages Regulatory Overreach in Comments to ITU

USCIB filed comments with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) last week as part of the agency’s public consultation on policy considerations for “over the top” services, urging the ITU to avoid expanding its jurisdiction to include Internet-related issues. The public policy aspects of OTT services have been identified as a priority by several governments in the ITU. The U.S. government considers OTT services to offer a range of economic benefits, including increased consumer choice, increased use of underlying networks, and contributions to further innovation and investment.  However, other countries view OTT services as adjuncts to traditional telecommunications services, and should therefore be subject to regulation.

USCIB’s comments emphasized the importance of staying true to the ITU’s primarily technical mission in developing international telecommunication standards and allocating spectrum, and not expanding the ITU’s work program to include Internet-related issues that are well beyond its remit, core competencies, and budgetary resources. Such issues are most effectively addressed in multistakeholder forums, where policy is holistically and expertly informed by consultations among business, civil society, the technical community, and government, USCIB stated. USCIB  further highlighted the promise of innovative online services and applications for economic, developmental, and societal benefits, which will help to realize many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

“An enabling environment for continued innovation and investment in these services is crucial,” noted USCIB Vice President Barbara Wanner. “In this regard, market-driven solutions and voluntary, industry-led standards best ensure a healthy digital ecosystem,” she said.

The ITU will consider contributions from USCIB and others at a face-to-face open consultation, which will be held in Geneva on September 18, 2017.

USCIB Joins 107 Associations on NAFTA Letter on Investment

USCIB joined 107 other associations in a letter sent on August 8 to United States Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer and four other cabinet-level officials in the administration highlighting the importance of a strong investment chapter in the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  The letter emphasized the need for strong enforcement provisions via an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system with independent expert arbiters.  The letter also offered six specific suggested changes to strengthen the current investment chapter in the NAFTA modernization negotiation set to begin August 16 in Washington.

“These provisions are highly valuable and have already helped many U.S. businesses that have faced the seizure, theft and mistreatment of investments in both Canada and Mexico. ISDS in the NAFTA has been highly beneficial to the United States,” the letter notes.

Investment, including Foreign Direct Investment, is key to driving economic growth, competitiveness, exports and jobs. Strong investment agreements, including ISDS arbitration provisions are key to effective enforcement.  The investment chapter will likely be a focus in the NAFTA update negotiations.

“We were delighted to have several USCIB member sectoral associations join us in signing the letter along with a broad coalition of national and state business groups,” said Shaun Donnelly, USCIB’s vice president for trade and financial services.

USCIB Urges Senate to Confirm Trump Administration Nominees

USCIB is among approximately 90 American business and industry associations to have signed a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, urging the Senate to take expeditious steps to ensure the timely confirmation of qualified pending nominees to administration positions.

“The slow pace of confirmations is depriving agencies across the government of critical leadership and in the case of independent agencies, the quorum necessary to conduct critical business,” reads the letter.

Additionally, it notes: “The breakdown of the confirmation process results in a breakdown in the efficient and effective functioning of government and ultimately to a drag on the economy. Workers are sidelined as projects await permits from agencies that lack the quorum necessary to issue the permit. Businesses are left waiting for important administrative decisions that simply cannot be made in the absence of Senate-confirmed officials.”

To date, among President Donald Trump’s 283 executive and judicial nominations, only 67 have been confirmed. Of those 67, only 13 were confirmed by voice vote or unanimous consent, while 37 (55%) were confirmed only after going through the cloture process. By way of comparison, at approximately the same point in President Obama’s first term, the Senate had confirmed 206 nominees, 182 by voice vote or unanimous consent.

The full letter, along with the list of signatories, can be found here.

Administration Goals for Modernizing NAFTA Include Many USCIB Priorities but Leave Out Key Issues

Washington, D.C., July 17, 2017 – The United States Council for International Business (USCIB), which represents America’s top global companies and helps exporters of all sizes do business across borders, is encouraged that the objectives for modernization of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) released by the office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) today cover many of the issues proposed in USCIB’s submission last month. But the group said some of the objectives leave out references to key business priorities such as investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS).

USCIB President and CEO Peter M. Robinson said: “The fact of the matter is that a great many businesses base their success on increasingly seamless integration of the North American trading space. U.S. negotiators need to start from the premise that three-way trade and investment among the NAFTA partners should be enhanced, not restricted. A modernization effort must include strong investment protection provisions, including effective ISDS. We encourage USTR to maintain an intensive dialogue with affected U.S. stakeholders, including business, as they flesh out more detailed objectives, strategies and priorities.”

Last month, USCIB released its priorities for NAFTA modernization, calling on the administration to update the 23 year-old pact to accommodate new realities in global commerce, including the rise of the digital economy, while keeping what works from the original agreement.

USCIB urged the administration to update and strengthen key NAFTA provisions, including the liberalization and protection of investment flows, protection of intellectual property, customs and trade facilitation, regulatory cooperation, and improved agricultural market access. It also recommended tackling new areas not included or anticipated in the original agreement two decades ago, such as the digital provision of goods and services, data localization requirements, and state-owned enterprises.

About USCIB:
USCIB promotes open markets, competitiveness and innovation, sustainable development and corporate responsibility, supported by international engagement and regulatory coherence. Its members include U.S.-based global companies and professional services firms from every sector of our economy, with operations in every region of the world. As the U.S. affiliate of several leading international business organizations, USCIB provides business views to policy makers and regulatory authorities worldwide, and works to facilitate international trade and investment.

Contact:
Jonathan Huneke, USCIB
Tel: +1 917 420 0039
jhuneke@uscib.org

Donnelly Testifies on NAFTA at USTR-led Public Hearings

With the Trump administration having served notice of its intention to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), USCIB has been advocating for modernization of certain aspects of NAFTA through op-eds, testimonies and meetings. Most recently, USCIB Vice President for Trade and Finance Shaun Donnelly presented USCIB views at the “NAFTA Testimony” hearings held on June 27 at the International Trade Commission (ITC). While held at the ITC, USTR was running the three days of public hearings. Staff from Commerce, State, Treasury, Department of Homeland Security, and Agriculture also sat on the panel and joined in questioning presenters.

Donnelly’s testimony stemmed USCIB’s written submission, which had been developed with member input, focused on NAFTA’s importance to U.S. business and that it should be updated given that it is no longer a “cutting edge” trade agreement. “By all means, update, modernize,” said Donnelly. “But NAFTA does not need a fundamental “root and branch” renegotiation. Give NAFTA a facelift, not a lobotomy,” he emphasized.

Donnelly also highlighted five key messages from USCIB’s written submission:

  1. Get strong digital economy provisions into NAFTA – e-commerce, cross border data flows, telecoms competition, prohibitions on data localization requirements.
  2. Update other key areas – e.g. standards and Technical Barriers to Trade (TBTs), cover new forms of services, strengthen IPR provisions and enforcement to incentivize innovation, develop a meaningful chapter on State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs).
  3. Update and strengthen customs and trade facilitation provisions; get higher de minimis levels.
  4. Strong investment provisions are essential. Implementation/arbitration through Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) is essential. ISDS works and it is important for many U.S. investors even in North America; don’t be seduced by criticism from the EU and NGOs about ISDS or the EU’s investment court proposal.
  5. Government Procurement chapter is important and its working. It’s balanced. Don’t rip it up. U.S. firms are selling a lot of goods and services to Canadian and Mexican government entities.

“Do the update quickly, seriously, trilaterally, in transparent manner, based on real issues of concern to the U.S. business community not with a political focus on bilateral trade balances or imposing unilateral trade barriers,” Donnelly concluded. “Work with U.S. business, we want to be partners in this important exercise.”

 

 

USCIB Statement on U.S. Withdrawal From the Paris Climate Agreement

New York, N.Y., June 1, 2017 – The United States Council for International Business (USCIB), which represents America’s most successful global companies, issued the following statement on U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement:

“Like many others in the U.S. business community, USCIB is disappointed by the news that the Trump administration has elected to leave the Paris Climate Agreement. In our view, this decision could leave U.S. companies unprotected and exposed to possible discrimination under the Paris Agreement if the U.S. government is not at the table.

“The Paris Agreement is redefining global markets for energy and environmental goods and services, as well as providing major economic stimuli for companies. U.S. energy security and access were never threatened by the Paris Agreement, which allows each national government to define its own climate action plan. Moreover, the U.S. stands to benefit from trade and investment opportunities that the Paris Agreement will set in motion.

“We are interested to learn more about how the U.S. will pursue new arrangements while remaining in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. While it does so, we encourage the U.S. to stay involved on behalf of U.S. economic interests, and to bring U.S. solutions to this crucial global effort. We encourage the administration to reform areas of the UN climate framework toward more fair, transparent and balanced approaches that are responsive to U.S. circumstances and aspirations.

“USCIB members are committed to advancing sustainable development and environmental solutions through international cooperation, and have supported the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement since their inception. Multilateral forums and cooperative approaches are the best way to address the transboundary challenges of energy access and innovation, climate change and sustainable development. In close coordination with our global business partners, including the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the Major Economies Business Forum (BizMEF), USCIB will continue to champion U.S. business interests in the UNFCCC, and will seek opportunities to promote U.S. environment and energy solutions through business engagement and implementation, and to broadly deploy climate-friendly investment and innovation.

“USCIB has represented U.S. business interests in the UN climate negotiations for over 25 years, and during that time has benefited from the diligent efforts of U.S. government representatives at the table to advance and defend U.S. business interests, often under challenging conditions. We express thanks to the current U.S. climate negotiating team, and others with whom we have worked, for their extraordinary efforts on our behalf.”

About USCIB:
USCIB promotes open markets, competitiveness and innovation, sustainable development and corporate responsibility, supported by international engagement and regulatory coherence. Its members include U.S.-based global companies and professional services firms from every sector of our economy, with operations in every region of the world. As the U.S. affiliate of several leading international business organizations, including ICC, USCIB provides business views to policy makers and regulatory authorities worldwide, and works to facilitate international trade and investment. More information is available at www.uscib.org.

Contact:
Jonathan Huneke, USCIB
Tel: +1 212 703 5043
jhuneke@uscib.org

Industry Appeals to China on Cybersecurity Law

With China’s broad cybersecurity law set to take effect next month, USCIB has joined with a range of industry groups from the United States and other countries in appealing for the country to delay its entry into force. Among other things, the new law would give law enforcement enhanced authority to access private data and require data to be stored servers located in China.

In a joint letter, the business groups said they are “deeply concerned that current and pending security-related rules will effectively erect trade barriers along national boundaries that effectively bar participation in your market and affect companies across industry sectors that rely on information technology goods and services to conduct business.”

The letter called on China to ensure that cybersecurity regulations comply with China’s World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments and encourage the adoption of international models that support China’s development as a global hub for technology and services.

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.)