United Nations General Assembly Commemorates ILO Centennial

L-R: Secretary General of IOE Roberto Suarez; IOE Vice-President to the ILO
Mthunzi Mdwaba; President of the International Organization of Employers Erol Kiresepi; USCIB President and CEO Peter Robinson

As the International Labor Organization celebrates its one-hundredth anniversary this year, the United Nations commemorated this milestone at the UN General Assembly on April 10 under the theme “The Future of Work.” The commemorative plenary was attended by heads of state, ministers, heads of delegations from permanent missions to the UN, and representatives from the private sector, including USCIB President and CEO Peter Robinson. 

Opening statements were made by President of the 73rd Session of the General Assembly María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, Secretary General of the UN António Guterres, Director General of the International Labor Organization Guy Ryder, President of the International Organization of Employers (IOE) Erol Kiresepi, and others.

As IOE Vice President for North America, Robinson also took part in a luncheon, co-hosted by Espinosa Garcés and Ryder, to discuss progress, good practices, and lessons learned toward achieving the eight Sustainable Development Goal (decent work and economic growth). The luncheon provided an opportunity for participants to take stock of the progress in the implementation of sustainable development objectives in the area of promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. According to Robinson, the luncheon provided a terrific opportunity to support the ILO as an example of inclusive multilateralism embodied in its tripartite structure.

“We at USCIB are proud to celebrate the ILO’s centennial, alongside our partners in the Department of Labor, the AFL-CIO and the International Organization of Employers’ worldwide membership,” said Robinson.

The Global Trade Talks Nobody’s Talking About

Nick Ashton Hart

This column is written by Nick Ashton Hart, Geneva representative of the Digital Trade Network, which is supported by USCIB, the International Chamber of Commerce, and the World Information Technology and Services Alliance (WITSA) amongst others. Nick has helped forge new paths forward at the WTO on digital trade rules, and works directly with the 76 WTO Members who have just begun negotiation of a digital trade agreement at the World Trade Organization.

At the December 2017 WTO ministerial in Buenos Aires, 71 countries made a political declaration to begin discussing new global rules to facilitate the expansion of the digital economy beneficial to both developed and developing countries. Thanks to intensive work by those countries in 2018, on January 29, on the margins of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, 76 countries (notably including the US, EU, and China) announced the launch of formal negotiations.

All the major economies, most of the G20, and many smaller states are all taking part, including some of the world’s poorest countries. In total the vast majority of the world’s economy is at the table. Since it is estimated that the digital economy underpins approximately one-third of global GDP – and rising – this is a negotiation that will impact industry everywhere – and people everywhere.

You would think that so important a negotiation would have created a very large increase in the level of engagement by the private sector across the board – in capitals and in Geneva. If you think that, you would be wrong: many delegations are surprised that entire economic sectors are not engaged despite the potential ramifications on their businesses. The Ambassadors of some of the world’s largest economies tell me that their ministry is not hearing from the private sector in the capital, or they are hearing only generalities and not the specifics necessary to create negotiating positions. The intensity of activity by the private sector in Geneva is also not much different now than it was in 2017, or 2016 or 2015. To give you an example of how serious the problem is, almost half of the written submissions to the talks during 2018 reference financial services – yet many Ambassadors say they cannot remember the last time a representative from a bank came to see them.

The private sector’s limited engagement could be explained by the fact that their limited pool of experts are busy elsewhere trying to prevent a trade war or keep their companies out of escalating tariffs. The relative newness of the talks could also explain it.  Whatever the reason, for me to hear increasingly frustrated ambassadors across countries at all levels of development asking me ‘where is business and when will they tell us in specific what they need and why’ when a negotiation has already started is, frankly, worrying, especially given that the participating 76 states have agreed to table proposals by mid-April of this year with the objective of having a draft agreement by the end of July. While in my view that timeline is likely to slip, clearly time is of the essence.

WTO delegations are looking at some of the world’s most important economic questions, such as:

  • What can trade policy do to help narrow the “digital divide” (connecting the half of humanity not yet online)
  • Will data flows be protected from trade distorting interference – interference which is presently growing globally – and how will the need to ensure other public policy priorities like the protection of personal information be factored in?
  • Should the moratorium on applying customs duties to digital goods be made permanent?
  • How can trade rules help the spread of mobile financial services to close the financial inclusion gap? (almost two billion people do not have access to financial services)
  • What can trade policy do to foster consumer and business trust in purchasing goods and services across borders?
  • How can trade rules promote use of digital contracts, adoption of digital signatures and customs and logistics processes, and make trade finance easier to get and use, all to help SMEs trade more?

The trade policy community needs and deserves the best advice both in Geneva and in national capitals as they work to answer these big questions. The answers could profoundly benefit not just commerce but everyone. But as I have so often heard from delegations – and I have often said it myself – if countries don’t understand what’s in it for their economies in adopting new rules to promote digital trade, they won’t. The private sector has a critical role to play in making that case. So far, frankly, it is failing to do that effectively enough.

Meanwhile non-governmental organisations that are skeptical, or opposed, to any new rules for the digital economy are both well-organised and very active in Geneva and international capitals. This statement will be released on April 1, signed by a very large number of NGOs, on the first day of the biggest digital-trade event of the year in Geneva, UNCTAD’s Ecommerce Week. You can find a large collection of NGOs have been active for many years on-the-ground and there are several people employed in Geneva just on trade policy advocacy generally opposed to any new trade rules related to the digital economy. Meanwhile, the only dedicated industry person in Geneva on digital trade is myself.

Opportunities like these negotiations don’t come by very often in international affairs: time is short. The private sector has been asking for new rules for online trade for years. Now is the time for it to make clear what it needs and why in enough detail and invest in helping countries at all levels of development understand why it matters to them … or watch the opportunity slip away.

Nick Ashton-Hart is the Geneva representative of the Digital Trade Network.

You can follow him at @nashtonhart.

An earlier version of this column appeared on the Council of Foreign Relations website at: 

https://www.cfr.org/blog/global-trade-talks-digital-economy-nobodys-talking-about.

At B20, Robinson Stresses Need for International Cooperation

Peter Robinson at the B20 in Japan

USCIB President and CEO Peter Robinson was in Japan the week of March 11 for the B20 Summit, alongside other business leaders such as John Denton, secretary general and Paul Polman, chair of the International Chamber of CommercePhil O’Reilly, chair and Russell Mills, secretary general of Business at OECD, as well as Erol Kiresepi, chairman of the International Organization of Employers.

Robinson spoke on a panel titled, “Global Economy for All: International Cooperation for Global Governance.” In his remarks, Robinson proposed looking at international cooperation from two perspectives: strengthening global institutions and rules, while also encouraging bottom-up approaches and a general spirit of cooperation, rather than confrontation, in international economic relations.

“For the foreseeable future, we will need to accept that many electorates and governments view the world through a more nationalistic, mercantilist lens,” said Robinson. “We need to demonstrate the value in international cooperation, not just through new binding rules and official structures, but through voluntary, bottom-up initiatives. Efforts such as the Paris Climate Agreement, or the plurilateral agreements being pursued by WTO members on several issues including digital trade, should be welcomed and encouraged.”

Throughout the course of the panel, Robinson also touched upon trade conflicts with China, WTO modernization, and the need to radically reform education, job training and retraining approaches around the world.

Robinson also called out climate change as being a crucial long-term global challenge. “Climate impacts everything – economic growth, jobs, health care, where people live,” stressed Robinson. “We therefore need to view climate and energy policy in a more holistic manner.”

The Japan Times covered the B20 and quoted Robinson in their piece, “At B20 in Tokyo, World Business Leaders Urge Stronger Cooperation on Looming Challenges.” The Japan Times quoted Robinson emphasizing that “The American business community still believes in open trade, globalization and multilateralism.”

Robinson also applauded the B20’s prioritization of adoption and dissemination of artificial intelligence to ensure that AI development deployment remains “human-centric”. This issue will be a big focus of the digital economy conference that USCIB is organizing with Business at OECD (BIAC) and the OECD on March 25 in Washington, DC.

ICC Secretary General Meets With USCIB Members, Staff

John Denton

John Denton, the Australian lawyer and diplomat who last year took the reins as secretary general of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the world business organization that serves as the linchpin of USCIB’s global network, met with USCIB members and staff during a visit to New York in early February.

Leading representatives of USCIB member companies from a variety of industries, and reflecting a wide spectrum of expertise across USCIB’s various policy committees, gathered in USCIB’s New York and Washington, D.C. offices. Joined by video conference, they provided the ICC secretary general with their views and priorities across multiple practice areas. Denton took advantage of the opportunity to compare notes on a variety of global economic and business challenges, and laid out his efforts to streamline and re-imagine ICC’s vision, structure and services.

Denton was elected to head the secretariat of the Paris-based ICC in March of last year. A legal expert and adviser on global policy, international trade and investment and infrastructure, Denton previously served on ICC’s Executive Board and, in 2016, became the first Australian to hold the position of first vice chair of ICC.

 

Robinson Contributes to OECD’s Going Digital Work in Paris

USCIB President and CEO Peter Robinson (left) with OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria

USCIB CEO and President Peter Robinson was in Paris January 15 as part of the business delegation at the annual Business at OECD Liaison Committee Meeting (LCM) consultation with OECD Ministers. The focus of this meeting was on the OECD’s “Going Digital” work and titled “Expanding Digital Opportunities: Agreeing Priority Actions”. Robinson served as a moderator of one of three concurrent panels composed of business leaders, OECD Ambassadors and OECD staff.

Robinson’s session was “Future Proofing to ensure broader societal success” and engendered discussion around two questions: What approaches best enable dynamic policy-making, and where are they most needed? And what does good multi-stakeholder collaboration look like in this context?

“I see the latter being a big component of the former and was able to point to OECD’s general leadership in multi-stakeholder engagement, which has been setting an example at a time when some other international organizations seem to be not as open to business involvement,” reflected Robinson.

“The ambassadors on my panel seemed to truly appreciate the opportunity to dialogue with business in this way, and their contributions consisted of a mix of reactions to Business at OECD’s position paper and examples of initiatives in their own countries—including from Italy, Japan, and Latvia—reflecting multi-stakeholder engagement in the digital age.”

OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria and Business at OECD Chair Phil O’Reily circulated among the panels and shared leadership of the plenary sessions. Business at OECD Secretary General Russell Mills also served as a moderator, as did Julie Brill, Microsoft Corporate vice president and deputy general counsel, who chairs the Business at OECD Committee on Digital Economy Policy. USCIB Board member and Business at OECD Vice Chair Rick Johnston was also on hand, as were other USCIB member executives from firms including IBM, Cooley LLP, Google and PwC.

OECD will hold its “Going Digital” Summit March 11-12 in Paris. The USCIB/BIAC/OECD “Going Digital: OECD Insights for a Changing World” will be held on March 25-26 in Washington, D.C. The annual OECD Ministerial will be held May 22-23 in Paris, at which Digital will figure centrally.

 

OECD Emphasizes Adverse Impact of US-China Trade Tensions on Economy

The OECD’s semi-annual Economic Outlook, issued on November 21, warns that U.S.-China trade tensions are adversely affecting the global economic outlook and that the majority of the burden will be felt by U.S. consumers.  And if the U.S.-China trade disputes continue to escalate, world trade could reduce significantly by 2021.  In his remarks presenting the latest Economic Outlook, OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria highlighted downward adjustments in OECD’s forecasts for GDP growth rates from their May Outlook: dropping from 3.7% to 3.5% growth globally for 2019, with an additional 3.5% drop in 2020.

For the U.S. specifically, the OECD forecast for 2019 growth drops from 2.9% in May to 2.7% in this report and a further drop to 2.1% in 2020. For Europe’s “Euro Area”, the OECD now estimates 1.6% (down from 1.8% in the May Outlook) and 1.6% growth again in 2020. For China, the OECD is now forecasting 6.32% annual growth in 2019 (down from 6.6% in the May forecast) and 6.3% growth again in 2020.  The slides from the OECD presentation demonstrate in more detail key trends the OECD identifies over the coming years.

Gurria highlighted one major reason for this decline in global growth prospects is a breakdown in international cooperation. The imposition of new tariffs and uncertainty about further restrictive trade actions are contributing to a marked slowdown in trade growth, dampening global investment and threatening jobs and living standards. The international rules-based system that has governed trade since the end of the Second World War has been undermined. Gurria’s perspective is blunt – “Protectionism is not the answer.” While Gurria does not explicitly call out U.S. trade policies, it seems clear that the U.S.-China trades disputes and U.S. more aggressive unilateral trade policy are significant factors helping drive down global economic forecasts.

USCIB President and CEO Peter Robinson took note of the OECD’s semi-annual Economic Outlook. “The OECD has earned international respect for its detailed and apolitical economic outlooks,” said Robinson.  “All of us – governments, businesses and citizens – need to take heed to this OECD alarm bell.  Economic growth is the force that drives investment, trade, jobs and better lives for citizens around the world.  It seems clear that one key concerns causing the OECD and other experts to adjust their economic forecasts downward is increased protectionism.  I agree with Secretary General Gurria that protectionism is not a solution; protectionism begets protectionism and downward pressures.  We call upon the U.S. government, as well as other leading trade powers, to reject protectionism and provide global leadership to open trade and investment opportunities around the world.”

The OECD’s press release provides an excellent summary of their key analysis, findings and recommendations.

Robinson Furthers USCIB Ties with US Mission to Geneva

The Palais des Nations, which serves as the UN’s Geneva headquarters

USCIB President and CEO Peter Robinson was in Geneva the first week of November for high-level meetings of the International Organization of Employers (IOE), for which he serves as vice president for North America. While in the city, Robinson also met with senior officials at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, including Deputy Permanent Representative (and Charge d’Affaires in the absence of an Ambassador) Mark Cassayre. Tom Mackall, USCIB senior counsel and ILO Governing Body representative, accompanied Robinson.

Cassayre was only recently posted to Geneva, but already speaks with keen knowledge about areas of mutual interest, according to Robinson. Key senior staffers from the U.S. Mission also attended the meeting, including Howard Solomon, Bill Lehmberg and Phil Cummings.

“The meeting afforded us the opportunity to underline to the Mission USCIB’s unique positioning with regard to international institutions, and its role on behalf of U.S. business in global regulatory and standard-setting diplomacy, reflecting our parallel and mutually-supportive missions,” said Robinson.

A major issue of discussion was the emergence in recent years of allegations in some UN organizations of “conflict of interest” and “corporate capture” as an attempt to limit, if not exclude, business (industries, companies, and the organizations that represent their interest) from international discussions in areas ranging from health to climate change to labor protections. Robinson also noted The USCIB Foundation’s collaboration with a Geneva-based NGO, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), to develop principles for nutrition-related public private partnerships.

“The U.S. Mission seemed very supportive of an all-inclusive approach to today’s economic challenges, and we will look forward to working with them to help ensure preservation of that principle in international institutions,” noted Robinson.

Specific areas of discussion included current ILO debates within the Governing Body, the worrisome Ecuador-led efforts to secure a treaty on business and human rights, and approaches to other Geneva-based institutions including UNCTAD.

“We also highlighted USCIB’s longtime collaboration with the U.S. Missions in New York and Geneva, and our hope for a second USCIB member company delegation to Geneva, as we had undertaken this past spring with the help of the Mission,” said Robinson. “We ended the meeting feeling confident that this was a solid next step in constructive engagement with the U.S. Mission. On a personal note, I was delighted to learn that Mr. Cassayre, like me, had been an AFS exchange student, he to Lausanne, Switzerland, and I to Graz, Austria, and that both of us had maintained solid connections with those respective countries.”

USCIB Leader Appointed to President’s Trade Advisory Group

Business & Climate Summit 2015, USCIB Chairman Terry McGraw.
USCIB Chairman Harold McGraw III has been reappointed by President Donald Trump as member of the ACTPN.
The ACTPN is the highest ranking of around 25 private-sector committees that advise the administration on trade.

 

USCIB Chairman Harold McGraw III who serves as chairman emeritus of S&P Global has been reappointed by President Donald Trump on October 30 as member of the Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations (ACTPN). McGraw joins two others, including Fred Bergsten, chairman emeritus of the Peterson Institute for International Economics and James Hoffa, president of the Teamsters union,  in being reappointed to the ACTPN.

“We are delighted that Terry will continue to provide insightful and impassioned advocacy of fair and balanced policies to expand American trade as a member of the ACTPN,” said USCIB President and CEO Peter Robinson.

Trump also plans to appoint two new members Evan Greenberg, president and CEO of Chubb Limited, and Timothy Smucker, chairman emeritus of the J.M. Smucker Co.

The ACTPN is the highest ranking of around 25 private-sector committees that advise the administration on trade.

 

Robinson Contributes Letter to FT on Making Internet Affordable to All

FT featured a letter by USCIB CEO and President Peter Robinson in response to an editorial “The web should be open to all the world’s citizens” on October 11.

In the letter, Robinson emphasizes the important role of public-private partnerships as crucial to broadening access to the internet, noting that companies such as Google, Ericsson, Facebook, Intel and Microsoft are already moving ahead in this regard.

“Focused on driving prices down to meet the UN Broadband Commission target of entry-level broadband services priced at less than 5 percent of monthly income, they are working with governments and other stakeholders in countries as diverse as Nigeria, the Dominican Republic and Myanmar to make the internet more affordable and accessible,” writes Robinson.

The full letter can be found here, subscription to FT required.

At B20, Argentina’s President Notes Crucial Role of Business

Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri
The annual B20 process provides a platform for the international business community to participate in global economic governance.
The set of actionable recommendations will be submitted for consideration by heads of state at the G20 Summit in late November.

 

Argentina hosted the B20 Summit October 4-5 in Argentina, gathering business leaders of B20, government representatives and members of international organizations. Among them was International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Secretary General John Denton. Denton led a high-level panel on “Infrastructure + Energy: Two powerhouses for development”.

The annual summit, organised this year under the stewardship of G20 host country Argentina, provided an opportunity for Denton and selected business leaders to meet with Argentine President Mauricio Macri, who addressed the group at the Casa Rosada Museum in Buenos Aires.

Formally receiving the group’s recommendations to G20 leaders during the closing session of the Summit, Macri said, “Global solutions require the commitment and action not only of governments but also of all the sectors of society, including the business community. Companies are important in the process of dialogue and consensus building.”

The set of actionable recommendations will be submitted for consideration by heads of state at the G20 Summit in late November.

The annual B20 process provides a significant platform for the international business community to participate in global economic governance, and supports the work of the G20 by hosting focused policy discussions and developing recommendations geared towards strong, sustainable and balanced growth in the global economy.