Post-Brexit Trade: An Opportunity to Set New Standards

By Chris Southworth

As the United Kingdom prepares to leave the European Union, the country is at a crossroads. To deliver success means delivering trade deals fast, and the only way to do that is to be more innovative, explains Chris Southworth, the secretary general of ICC UK, USCIB’s partner in the global International Chamber of Commerce network. This was also the topic of a recent ICC UK podcast featuring USCIB’s Rob Mulligan. The views presented here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect USCIB policy positions.

ICC UK Secretary General Chris Southworth

The UK government has committed itself to renegotiate its entire stock of trade relationships and bring home the largest number of trade deals ever delivered in a short space of time – the task has no precedent.

The first round of post Brexit deals will be with 88 countries and nine trade blocs, covering non-EU countries with EU deals – almost half the world. The scale and pace at which this task must be delivered presents a unique opportunity to be innovative – it’s the only way the government will deliver on its promises of a “free trade model that works for everyone.”

The government has begun the process of passing legislation to set up a new Trade Remedies Authority, share customs data and maintain an open procurement market, but there is currently no proposal for how the government will deliver so many deals in such a short space of time. The government says that the 60-plus countries with EU deals will roll over on the same trade terms, so no extra consultation is required, but that is highly unlikely according to the experts.

In a rare display of unity, business groups, NGOs, unions and consumer groups all agree that to move forward on trade, the UK needs a more transparent, inclusive and democratic framework to handle trade policy if there is any chance of ensuring trade benefits everyone.

The UK has become one of the most centralized G7 countries, with wide disparities across its regions, a stubborn trade deficit and a history of under-performance on productivity and competitiveness. London now dominates the UK economy, with every other region a long way behind. Brexit presents a golden opportunity for trade to play a central role in boosting regional economies as well as address the frustration and disparity that is all too clear to spot, but only if the mode of engagement changes.

If the government wants to deliver new trade deals at the pace and scale required, fresh thinking and reinvented processes are required – those who generate trade will need to be consulted on what works, not only because it is necessary, but because it is democratic. To deliver a trade model that works for everyone means giving stakeholders a say in the decisions.

The Trade Bill

The Trade Bill – currently under review in Parliament – sets out an initial framework for an independent trade policy: a Trade Remedies Authority, an open procurement market, rolling over terms with countries with third party EU agreements sharing customs data. Controversially, the bill also proposes “Henry VIII” powers giving the government the ability to overrule Parliament.

Being a member of the EU means that the UK has no formal structures or procedures for reviewing treaties, and Parliament does not have to debate, vote on or approve deals. Trade agreements are scrutinized via the usual Parliamentary means such as written questions and answers, internal debates and select committee inquiries.

If government negotiators have any chance of delivering trade deals on the scale and pace required, there needs to be a more structured approach that provides organised forums for the international community, business, unions, NGOs and civil society organisations to engage on the issues and make consensus based decisions.

There is a myth that consultation and transparency slows the decision-making process. But without dialogue there is scope for mistrust to grow, which if unchecked, has more than enough weight to derail trade negotiations – as we saw with the lack of public support for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). As hard is may be to hear, public services and food standards trumped trade and that is exactly how people expressed their views.

The TTIP negotiations collapsed, losing five to seven years of negotiation with no sign of an opportunity to restart discussions. It was a colossal waste of resources that could have been easily avoided if the engagement process had been better organised and more inclusive from the start.

The Canada-EU trade agreement (CETA) very nearly went the same way. The issues surrounding Wallonia’s role in Belgium that almost derailed CETA could very well apply in a host of UK regions. Good-quality engagement throughout the decision-making process would prevent such scenarios happening in the future and most importantly give people a stake in making trade a success.

Trade policy now influences all walks of life – it’s not possible to separate trade from public policy and it’s imperative to have the public on board if deals need to be done.

International Models

The US trade model is often cited as an option for the UK but it’s not the only country that has a better system of engagement. New Zealand has successfully integrated private sector groups, civil society and the Maori – its indigenous population – into its model for developing trade positions.

Beyond regular public meetings regarding trade policy, the government established a ministerial advisory group to oversee high-level consultations. The group consists of representatives from key export sectors, NGOs, business and minority groups to reflect the overall priorities of New Zealand’s trade agenda, and to provide feedback to the nation’s minister of trade. In short, it’s a more inclusive system.

The scale of the UK challenge provides an opportunity to set a new international benchmark – no country has it completely right. A deal with 27 EU countries, followed by 60-plus countries with EU agreements, and then the rest of the world is a lot of ground to cover in a short space of time – if the UK government is going to return the benefits of Brexit as promised.

In fact, the success or failure of Brexit will hinge on the government’s ability to deliver trade deals – this is central pillar of the Brexit strategy to offset costs incurred from leaving the EU, especially for SMEs. To do that, it means breaking from the past, opening up and building a model of engagement that is more transparent, consensual and democratic in approach – and doing it fast!

Published March 12, 2018

Fighting for American Business: USCIB in the News in 2017

Throughout 2017, USCIB President and CEO Peter M. Robinson, alongside other USCIB leaders and staff, garnered important coverage from the news media on issues critical to USCIB members. Policy issues ranged from NAFTA and the need to enshrine investor protections to the need for reform at the United Nations.

USCIB members and committee leaders, particularly Jerry Cook of Hanesbrands and Tam Nguyen of Bechtel, also made headlines on issues such as customs and trade facilitation and the evolution of corporate sustainability standards, respectively.

“USCIB won important news coverage in a wide variety of areas,” said Jonathan Huneke, USCIB’s vice president for communications and public affairs. “Thanks to outstanding thought leadership from USCIB President Robinson, as well as committee leaders and our staff experts, we were able to consistently punch above our weight, holding our own in a crowded media environment.”

Read the full 2017 media review here. To request an interview with a USCIB expert, contact USCIB Communications.

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 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.)