USCIB Welcomes US Intention to Rejoin the Paris Agreement

Co-creating a U.S. climate plan to restore economies and to deploy American innovation globally

Washington, D.C., November 10, 2020 — The United States Council for International Business (USCIB) welcomes the intention of the incoming Administration to rejoin the Paris Agreement. Multilateralism matters to business, and nowhere is this conviction more important than in addressing climate change, especially against the backdrop of the pandemic and its economic and social impacts.

For over twenty-five years, USCIB members have supported the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and have been fully committed both to international cooperation and partnership with our government to tackle the impacts of climate change while advancing American private-sector driven economic prosperity and environmental stewardship at home and abroad. In our view, it is critical to continue to focus on and champion substantive engagement of U.S. business in all dimensions of the UNFCCC.

Enabling conditions inside and outside the framework of climate policy will be vital to progress towards the objectives of the UNFCCC and its Paris Agreement. USCIB is ready to recommend synergistic approaches that mobilize trade and investment to support and deploy innovative technologies and forms of energy.

As the U.S. affiliate of Business at OECD (BIAC), the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the International Organization of Employers (IOE), and with its own standing at the UNFCCC and at the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), USCIB is uniquely placed to scale and amplify these opportunities across the UN system, and in the OECD and the WTO.

As it re-engages, we encourage the Biden Administration to work closely with the full diversity of U.S. business across every sector of the economy. This will be essential to deliver a U.S. Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) that advances U.S. economic growth, energy security, job creation and climate action, for the widest benefit of all in our society.

While this might take time, we believe it is worth the effort to consult and reflect the views and expertise of USCIB members and other business stakeholders on economic, social, energy and environmental dimensions of U.S. actions at home and abroad in this critical area.

We look forward to this new chapter of vigorous American involvement and cooperation towards a successful COP26 climate meeting in 2021, and to U.S. involvement in the UNFCCC process into the future.

About USCIB: USCIB promotes open markets, competitiveness and innovation, sustainable development and corporate responsibility, supported by international engagement and prudent regulation. Its members include U.S.-based global companies and professional services firms with operations in every region of the world. USCIB has represented U.S. business at the UNFCCC since 1993. Furthermore, as the U.S. affiliate of leading international business organizations and as the sole U.S. business group with standing in ECOSOC, USCIB provides business views to policy makers and regulatory authorities worldwide, and works to facilitate international trade and investment. More at www.uscib.org.

USCIB Congratulates President-elect Biden, Stands Ready to Support US Global Leadership

President-elect Joe Biden. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Washington, D.C., November 9, 2020: The United States Council for International Business (USCIB) issued a statement by USCIB President and CEO Peter Robinson:

“We congratulate President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on having been declared the winners of this important election. We note with pride the record number of voters in these very challenging times.

“Looking ahead and facing the wide-ranging impacts of the pandemic, it is more important than ever for the United States to provide global leadership on a range of issues affecting our national prosperity, including international trade, climate change, sustainability, rule of law and support for a rules-based global economy.

“Working together, we can and must overcome the public health and economic obstacles that weigh so heavily on the American people and economy by bringing American business ingenuity and commitment to the fore, both at home and abroad.

“The Administration’s top priority should be to develop and implement, with the Congress, a strategy for U.S. recovery from the pandemic’s economic and health impacts, in engagement with the wider world. U.S. government and business leadership working together is indispensable to this effort.

“Such a comprehensive multi-stakeholder strategy will need to build upon America’s strengths in its innovation, entrepreneurship, know-how, educational system and world-class work force. It should seek to further leverage American business to reinforce U.S. global leadership and effectively engage with multilateral institutions for international rules that support American competitiveness. It should also insist that those institutions become more accountable to and inclusive of key global stakeholders, including the private sector, in pursuit of shared goals and values.

“USCIB members are already responding on many fronts to support response and recovery to the global health crisis, and for that reason have a major stake in expanded U.S. positive influence and impact internationally, renewed investment and growth at home, and restoration of the global economy to a shared and inclusive prosperity. As the U.S. affiliate of Business at OECD, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the International Organization of Employers (IOE), USCIB is uniquely placed to scale and amplify these opportunities.

“We are ready to work with the Administration to realize the promise of the American economy, to reap the gains from participation in global markets and trade, to advance sustainable development, and to deliver benefits in the form of jobs and opportunities for U.S. workers. These objectives should be pursued together as the U.S. moves to build forward better and stronger, in partnership with its allies worldwide.” 

About USCIB: USCIB promotes open markets, competitiveness and innovation, sustainable development and corporate responsibility, supported by international engagement and prudent regulation. Its members include U.S.-based global companies and professional services firms with operations in every region of the world. As the U.S. affiliate of the leading international business organizations, and as the sole U.S. business group with standing in the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), USCIB provides business views to policy makers and regulatory authorities worldwide, and works to facilitate international trade and investment. More at www.uscib.org.

Business Letter to US Senate on Dire Situation in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region

USCIB joined with several other associations, including the U.S.-China Business Council, the National Retail Federation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among others, to express great concern regarding the dire situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). The letter was sent to the Honorable Sherrod Brown and the Honorable Ron Wyden of the United States Senate on November 6 and is copied below.


Dear Senators Brown and Wyden:

Thank you for your October 27, 2020, letter regarding the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

The situation in XUAR is of enormous concern to the undersigned associations and our member companies. We have been working together and with other stakeholders to respond to this issue for some time. Forced labor in any form is horrific and intolerable, wherever it takes place. What is even more concerning is that forced labor – as horrific as it is – is only one component of a much larger campaign of oppression in this region.

Our members have long implemented rigorous due diligence activities to support and advance ethical manufacturing globally. These efforts have uncovered forced, bonded, and prison labor in facilities around the world. When they find such practices, our members act to root out and redress unacceptable and unethical practices.

Our members have been on the frontlines of deploying a range of best practices to prevent, identify, and mitigate instances of forced labor as well as joining forces in a collective effort to address the situation. Our members have been mapping out their supply chains and engaging with their supplier base and other partners to ensure there is no forced labor in their supply chains. We continue to explore alternative sourcing strategies and more effective due diligence mechanisms and technologies. That work has been and will continue in earnest. However, the situation in this region is of a scale, scope, and complexity – coupled with a lack of transparency – that is unprecedented in modern supply chains and goes beyond the capability of our members to fight this alone.

We strongly believe that the U.S. government must take a leadership role in a global approach that mobilizes the Administration and Congress, in conjunction with foreign governments, and engaging and partnering with industry, labor, and other important stakeholders. Marshalling the collective might of all stakeholders will be the most effective and only way of achieving our shared goal – ending forced labor practices and the larger campaign of oppression in the region.

The undersigned associations strongly condemn human rights abuses, including forced labor and the persecution and detention of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in China. We stand ready to work with you and your staff, and with all stakeholders, to find meaningful measures that would effectively safeguard human rights. We would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to discuss what our organizations and our members are doing and determine possible paths forward.

Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.

 

Sincerely,

American Apparel & Footwear Association

Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America

National Retail Federation

Retail Industry Leaders Association

U.S. Chamber of Commerce

U.S.-China Business Council

U.S. Council for International Business

U.S. Fashion Industry Association

USCIB Issues Recommendations to EU on a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism

The European Union concluded a public consultation last month on a proposed Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), part of the EU’s ambitious Green Deal, focusing on deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. USCIB submitted its members’ response on October 28, drawing on the expertise of its Committees on Customs, Environment, Taxation as well as Trade and Investment.

“The EU CBAM proposal is complex, seeking to “level the playing field” by imposing extra costs on imports from countries with different climate change policies” said USCIB Vice President for Environment, Energy and Strategic International Engagement Norine Kennedy. “In our comments, we addressed climate change, trade and technical aspects of the proposal which we believe to be most relevant to American companies doing business with, and in, the EU.”

One critical recommendation was on timing; USCIB encouraged the EU to undertake thorough consultative and data-based economic and trade impact assessments, especially with regards to developing countries, to avoid unintended and counter-productive consequences on livelihoods. “As countries continue to experience the fall out and economic disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, we believe governments should proceed cautiously before adding stresses to the global trading system,” warned Eva Hampl, USCIB senior director for trade, investment and financial services.

USCIB also stressed the importance of ensuring compatibility with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, warning that some elements of the EU CBAM proposal are unclear, which may lead to time-consuming disputes and delay the positive potential for deployment of innovative technologies and materials vital to climate change action, as well as hinder economic growth and recovery.

Hampl added: “Any further development of this currently counter-productive proposal must avoid and head off climate disputes at the WTO that may lead to unpredictable or unintended negative outcomes in environment, climate and trade negotiations.”

On technical practicality and administrative burdens, USCIB’s recommendation included reducing those burdens and the associated costs of compliance, which would inevitably subtract from resources available for other areas of environmental improvement.

USCIB believes that synergies between trade and environment protection should be the focus of international cooperation, and unilateral measures should be discouraged.

“Open trade advances economic prosperity and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and it is an essential vehicle to achieve widespread and rapid deployment of climate-related investments and cleaner and more efficient technologies and forms of energy,” emphasized Kennedy. “To meet the commitments and objectives of the SDGs, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement, it is clear that more trade will be needed.”

For more information:

Earlier this year, USCIB published a paper Seeking Synergies: Environment, Climate and Trade Policy.

USCIB Provides Feedback on AI to the National Institute of Standards and Technology

As the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) works on its principles of explainable “Artificial Intelligence (AI),” USCIB welcomed an opportunity to submit comments on behalf of its members. The comments, sent to the NIST Director and Undersecretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology Dr. Walter Copan, draw from industry experience, as well as from USCIB’s direct input to the development of the OECD’s AI Principles through USCIB’s affiliation with Business at OECD (known as “BIAC”).

“NIST’s effort represents a positive first step in terms of grappling with the issue of AI explainability,” remarked USCIB Vice President for ICT Policy Barbara Wanner. “The draft, and NIST’s broader program to develop approaches to AI trustworthiness, should significantly contribute to the private and public sector’s understanding of the many considerations necessary to implement AI, while ultimately enabling broader, faster and more responsible use of AI. We believe that, to be most effective, humans and machines should collaborate, combining their respective strengths to provide sustainable value for consumers, businesses, governments and society.”

In its comments, USCIB also highlighted the work of USCIB members such as Facebook, Google, IBM and Microsoft within an Experts Group that developed the OECD’s AI Principles. The U.S. government also contributed actively to the development of the OECD principles, under the leadership of the State Department.  On May 22, 2019, the OECD’s 36 member countries, along with Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru, and Romania,  endorsed the OECD Council Recommendation on Artificial Intelligence. The principles contained in the recommendation were subsequently endorsed by the G20.

USCIB to Present Proposal at APEC on Fighting IP Crime, Illicit Trade

During this week’s virtual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting of the Intellectual Property Rights Expert Group (IPEG) as part of the third Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) this year, USCIB will be presenting a proposal on October 7 on fighting intellectual property crime and illicit trade in counterfeit and pirated goods. This presentation will be given by USCIB Anti-Illicit Trade Committee (AITC) Chair David Luna of Luna Global Networks and Vice Chair Fernando Peña of DHL.

The proposal presented by Luna and Peña builds on previous groundwork in APEC on fighting illicit trade in various working groups, such as IPEG, the APEC Business Advisory Council, the Sub-Committee on Customs Procedures, and others, as well as scaling current efforts to strengthen international cooperation across economies, sectors and communities to fight illicit trade, including in established Free Trade Zones in the APEC region.

Luna and Pena will also discuss how COVID-19 further mutated criminality and IP infringement across online and e-commerce marketplaces, including through illicit trade, that is putting the health and safety of APEC citizens and communities at risk. Examples of products affected include medicines, personal protective equipment (PPE), medical supplies and fast-moving consumer goods such as food, hand-sanitizers and disinfectants.

“This has resulted in increased trade in illicit goods throughout APEC economies, which has sapped governments of vital tax revenues, inhibiting funding for pandemic response and economic recovery,” added USCIB Director for Customs and Trade Facilitation Megan Giblin. “We must continue to promote APEC’s leadership through public-private partnerships in APEC and across the Asia Pacific region and globally fight illicit trade.”

What COVID-19 Has Taught Us About Digital Transformation of the Economy

USCIB released a thought piece with concrete policy recommendations on “What COVID-19 has Taught Us About Digital Transformation of the Economy: Early Lessons Learned,” with a specific focus on the role of digital technologies, including on the issues of infrastructure, connectivity, capacity building and the digital divide, data flows and trust, as well as on the importance of Artificial Intelligence. To download, please click here.


The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the transformative power of digital technologies. These cutting-edge technologies not only have enabled real-time information exchanges about the virus, but also have facilitated the provision of critical medical services and government financial support for business and individuals as well as provided a means of continuing commercial and economic activity. The ability to connect online has served as a lifeline to literally millions of global citizens anxious for safe, virtual social engagement and a way to continue their children’s education, among other societal needs.

Responding quickly to the global crisis, companies across all sectors stepped up to work closely with governments and other stakeholders to deploy and drive digital technology solutions in response to these urgent medical, economic, and social needs. Whether it be via AI-powered applications, enhanced broadband connectivity, cloud computing services, data and cybersecurity or other digital technologies, companies in all sectors have been proving how important digital technology is for the health and well-being of all.

Even more important, digital technologies have the potential to shape a sustainable recovery from the pandemic, including accelerating the digitization of such government services as licensing, permitting, tax collection and procurement. Key to realizing this, however, is a policy framework that creates an enabling environment for investment in technology innovation and deployment. Such policies may address economic, social/cultural, technical, and governance issues, all of which are interlinked and cross-cutting. This holistic approach will best enable development of a secure digital infrastructural foundation to realize greater resilience and preparedness in the face of whatever natural or man-made challenge we may face going forward.

As of September 2020, the COVID-19 virus still was far from under control – and was anticipated to remain a challenge well into 2021.  U.S. business regards the following issues as key early lessons from the COVID-19 crisis. These lessons will require the urgent attention of policymakers to address healthcare, employment, education, commercial, and economic development needs in the near-term. Equally important, is imperative that we accelerate policy implementation in order to realize the best chance of a soft landing and solid return to commercial and economic activity when the pandemic eventually has been conquered through rigorous scientific means.

Infrastructure, Connectivity, and Spectrum – Public policies should focus on fostering robust connectivity. The benefits of digital transformation in responding to a global crisis can only be realized if there is adequate broadband infrastructure and spectrum.  In addition, the availability of licensed spectrum for exclusive use and shared use as well as unlicensed use has an important and complementary role in promoting the accessibility of the Internet and its developmental potential. There are many important uses of spectrum, including broadcast and mobile broadband as well as for Wi-Fi.

Policy Recommendation – Governments should incentivize investment in broadband technologies and streamline regulatory policies in order to facilitate broadband deployment, focusing on under-served areas. In addition, effective and technologically neutral management of spectrum – and increasingly scarce resource — must be a priority for policymakers while ensuring the integrity of services offered by existing spectrum license holders.

Capacity Building and Bridging the Digital Divide – The COVID-19 crisis highlighted the gap between the digital “haves” and “have nots,” the latter group suffering most acutely from the virus access to healthcare and medical resources. In a 2017 report, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) found that while more than 7 billion people now have access to voice services, more than 70 per cent of those living in the least developed countries (LDCs) still cannot afford a basic Internet connection, and less than half the people in the world regularly use the Internet.

Policy Recommendation – In order to proactively safeguard against the devastating effects of future crises, the global community must join in building digital and connectivity capacity in developing countries as well as enabling the necessary digital skills, especially for marginalized communities, to fully utilize internet connectivity.

Closing the E-Government Utilization Gap – Related to the above, the pandemic also exposed significant gaps in the ability of our governments to pivot online quickly to provide services.  Government services simply have not digitized fast enough or taken full advantage of the availability of broadband to improve their customer service, capacity, resiliency, adaptability, transparency, and security. Not only is the physical infrastructure lacking, but the rules for provisioning virtual services and teleworking for government employees remain unclear as well.  Given the demonstrated capacity and capability of our networks, governments are suffering from a utilization diffusion lag, which particularly harms marginalized and vulnerable communities.

Policy Recommendation – Governments should take aggressive steps to address their technology utilization gaps and leverage the capacity and capability of networks to conduct government business and offer online citizen services. In doing so, governments should ensure data and cybersecurity are prioritized to protect government and citizen information and harness the benefits of cloud computing for operational efficiency. To speed the rebuilding of the economy, governments should prioritize the digitization of the licensing and permitting process, such as in construction, to provide rapid stimulus to a global economy slowed by COVID-19. Governments also should leverage public-private partnerships and invest in the development, deployment, and procurement of digital services for the benefit of their citizens.

Data Flows and Trust – U.S. business embraces the view that the free flow of data and information is critical for economic development and addressing societal needs. The pandemic underscored the imperative for medical professionals around the world to share data in real-time critical to containing and mitigating the virus. That could not happen if a country’s policies hampered data flows. At the same time, however, U.S. business realizes that the medical, economic and other societal benefits enabled by data flows will only be embraced by consumers, businesses, and governments who trust the online environment. Users must feel confident that the privacy of their personal data will be respected and that their online systems are secure.

Policy Recommendation – Business believes that trust in the online environment is best achieved through risk-based and globally interoperable approaches to privacy and security protections. These conditions will ensure that data free flows with trust, an approach endorsed by the G20 countries in 2019.

Data and Cybersecurity – The importance of data and cybersecurity to the accelerated digital transformation brought on by the pandemic should not be understated.  As business and government networks have become more decentralized with remote work, new data and cybersecurity risks and vulnerabilities have emerged. Organizational leaders have needed to ensure they are extending the same security capabilities and best practices in their enterprise networks to all at-home network environments, leveraging cloud-delivered security technologies to do so rapidly and at scale. The pandemic has reshaped many global governments’ understanding of critical infrastructure and “essential” services, to better recognize the complex and interdependent nature of modern supply chains and that data and cybersecurity are essential to business continuity. 

Policy Recommendation – Governments should recognize the criticality of cybersecurity to continuity of essential services across all critical infrastructure sectors; help educate businesses and citizens about data and cybersecurity risk management and their respective responsibilities related to secure remote networking; incentivize the use of cloud-delivered security to enable secure remote workforces and schools at scale; and promote greater voluntary sharing of cyberthreat information and online safety best practices.

E-Commerce and Delivery of Essential Goods and Services – While the COVID-19 crisis accelerated digital transformation in general, the accelerated progress was especially evident with respect to the online sale and provision of goods and services. E-commerce driven by large companies and SMEs alike helped to ensure economic continuity especially during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Policy Recommendation – Policies should be reviewed and updated, if necessary, to ensure that they do not impede expeditious online provision of goods and services, including public sector services.

Importance of Artificial Intelligence (AI) – The pandemic highlighted how AI could be used to control the impacts of the virus as well as aid mitigation. For example, Amazon Web Services (AWS) launched the AWS Diagnostic Development Initiative, committing $20 million to accelerate diagnostic research, innovation, and development to speed collective understanding and detection of COVID-19 and other innovate diagnostic solutions to mitigate future infectious disease outbreaks.  More broadly, U.S. business recognizes the potential of AI to address economic, societal, and environmental inequalities. AI and other virtual/augmented reality technologies will continue to evolve and develop in ways that will facilitate mitigation of future crises.

Policy Recommendation – Business believes that existing regulations are sufficient for many AI applications and that any new requirements should be carefully considered in consultation with stakeholders to ensure they are narrowly tailored to address specific concerns as they arise. It is essential that all stakeholders work together to shape the development of AI to foster trust and broaden deployment so we are poised to use it effectively in addressing future crises.

USCIB Submits Comments to USTR on China’s Compliance With WTO

USCIB submitted comments on China’s compliance with WTO commitments on September 17. The comments were in response to the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) request for input. In its comments, USCIB welcomed the “Phase One” trade agreement between the United States and China, as well as China’s actions to date to implement its commitments under that agreement. According to USCIB, if fully implemented, the agreement will help address a host of policies and practices maintained by China that undermine the ability of U.S. businesses to operate, including unfair and discriminatory governmental practices.

USCIB also noted that U.S. tariffs and Chinese retaliatory tariffs imposed as a result of the U.S. Section 301 investigation into China’s forced technology transfer, intellectual property, and innovation policies have been disruptive to U.S. business.

“While the Phase One deal partially addresses some of these tariffs, more must be done to restore the ability of U.S. business to compete effectively in the global marketplace,” said Eva Hampl, who leads USCIB’s policy work on China. “As described in this submission, many issues affecting business remain a concern in China. Accordingly, high-level bilateral dialogue between the United States and China continues to be of the utmost importance.”

USCIB urges both countries to utilize, in addition to the World Trade Organization (WTO), the full range of formal multilateral fora, including Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), to work toward improved commercial relations. Plurilateral dialogues that include U.S.-friendly jurisdictions such as the European Union, Canada or Australia should also be considered.

“USCIB and its members understand and appreciate that U.S.-China economic relations are complex and multifaceted, and that American business holds a direct and important stake in this relationship and in its success,” added Hampl. “As the world’s largest economy, China’s practices and policies have a significant impact on its trading partners, and engagement with China can be challenging.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there will not be a public hearing this year. USCIB’s submission is public and can also be found on www.regulations.gov under Docket Number USTR-2020-0033.

 

Advancing Inclusive Multilatralism for a UN Decade of Action, Delivery and Recovery

USCIB issued a statement to the UN General Assembly’s 75th session on September 21.

USCIB is ready to join forces with governments and the UN as we continue to respond aggressively and responsibly to the COVID-19 pandemic while advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

It is in the DNA of U.S. business to turn challenges into opportunities and to innovate and develop practical and realistic solutions.  Businesses of all sizes, sectors and nationalities have already joined forces with governments and the multilateral community to respond aggressively and responsibly to the pandemic crisis while maintaining momentum towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  USCIB members are stepping up to the challenges related to COVID-19 response and recovery across healthcare, food security, social, economic and environmental dimensions.  USCIB and its All In UN75 Initiative will continue to convene business dialogues to design and catalyze “building block actions” towards inclusive multilateralism, converging sustainability and COVID-19 recovery working with business.

Now is the time to mobilize all of society’s actions for sustainable, just, inclusive and resilient recovery and growth, leaving no-one behind.  It is not enough to simply talk about the crucial role of business: the multilateral system and member states must incent and crowd in business for policy dialogue, partnership, implementation and assessment, and in project development and execution.

We urge the UN to:

  • prioritize the essential enablers for action across the SDGs. The Decade of Delivery and Action should approach recovery from the triple shock of COVID-19 to healthcare, jobs, food security and economic activity on the foundation of good governance and rule of law as set out in SDG 16.  For business, fundamental enablers for action have to do with inclusive and sustainable economic growth, supporting innovation and investment, and full and productive employment in order to:
  • Advance human well-being and build human capacity
  • Defeat poverty and reduce inequality
  • Ensure access to essential basic services, such as health, education, water, energy, and sanitation
  • Bring in experts and “do-ers” from the private sector and mobilize countries and other stakeholders to rebuild “forward” throughout their COVID-19 recovery, working with their private sectors in the framework of the 2030 Agenda.

On the occasion of UN75, and with a view to strengthening the UN to effectively respond to current and future challenges, USCIB and its members call on the international community to think outside the box and entertain innovative ideas for:

  • cross-sectoral partnership and cooperation at the national and regional levels
  • new options for gathering useful information to track shared value and impact
  • new ways of conducting meetings that truly enhance substantive engagement of both government representatives, business and other stakeholders.

We encourage Member States and UN entities to:

  • focus on synergies at national and global levels between COVID-19 response and recovery with the SDGs
  • seize the opportunity to mainstream private sector partnership and expertise in that regard into the UN Decade of Action and Delivery
  • support and provide new and concrete engagement mechanisms, institutional infrastructure and opportunities for the UN system, governments, businesses and other stakeholders to work together towards the UN Decade of Delivery and Action
  • recognize that policy assessment and dialogue at global, regional and national level need to invite and integrate business views on a systematic basis across policy design, implementation and tracking.

Truly inclusive collaborative structures at national and global levels to share expertise, engage in dialogue and launch partnerships with business will be critical to strengthened implementation and impact, whether in developing and updating Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), strengthening Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for the Paris Agreement, or framing sustainable development investment roadmaps.

We need not – indeed, must not — wait until the pandemic is past history to support and reinforce multilateralism and pursue “inclusive multilateralism” which:

  • promotes peace, cooperation and social justice
  • relies on effective and transparent multilateral bodies
  • advances collaborative approaches among states
  • encourages international dialogue and cooperation to design and implement effective policies
  • engages business across all sectors and other stakeholders in substantive dialogue and partnerships

Such a collaborative “all hands on deck” approach will not only provide benefits to COVID-19 response and a just recovery, but will also be the cornerstone of the UN Decade of Action and Delivery allowing the international community itself to build forward better, for a resilient and strong UN that is recognized as ready for future challenges.

USCIB Interviews John Frank on Microsoft’s New Office in NY for UN Affairs

John Frank

USCIB member since 1996, Microsoft has recently established a New York office to liaise with the United Nations. Norine Kennedy, who leads USCIB work on strategic international engagement, energy and environment, conducted a (virtual) interview with the head of this new office—Vice President for UN Affairs John Frank. Kennedy welcomed Frank to NY and posed some questions about Microsoft’s strategic vision for an enhanced presence at the UN, and invited his perspective on what American innovation, engagement and sustainability leadership can bring to the international community.


Microsoft’s decision to establish a New York office to connect directly with the UN is unique among our members. Could you talk about the process that led to this decision?

Many of the big challenges facing society can only be addressed effectively through multi-stakeholder action. Whether it’s public health, environmental sustainability, cybersecurity, terrorist content online or the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, we have found that multilateral cooperation is essential. And we need inclusive governance that brings in civil society and private sector organizations to collaborate on solutions. At Microsoft, we have taken active roles to encourage and support multi-stakeholder initiatives like the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace and the Christchurch Call to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.

As we have deepened our engagements on global and multi-stakeholder initiatives, we find ourselves interacting with the UN system and other multilateral institutions more deeply. The UN General Assembly High Level Week brings many people, including companies, to New York. But the work does not stop there. The people and processes that aim to solve these collective challenges continue after High Level Week concludes, so we decided we should be here all year long.

Establishing our representation office with people based in New York and Geneva is the next natural step for a company that values multilateralism and multi-stakeholder solutions to global challenges.

What do you see as the role of tech companies such as Microsoft in a post COVID-19 world?

The COVID-19 experience has greatly accelerated the adoption of technology across many organizations. Whether one uses Microsoft Teams, or Zoom, or another video conferencing solution, we have all moved our meetings and conferences online. Outside of the workplace, technology is helping us educate our children, engage with friends and family, and make our voices heard during the pandemic. In a post COVID-19 world, we expect some best practices will persist, allowing for more flexible workplaces, next generation classrooms, and other technology-enabled advances to improve how we work, communicate, and learn.

We believe this digital transformation will continue to accelerate. We see greater urgency to harness data science, especially for public health. Software, computers and data science are becoming core to every organization. Every company is becoming either a tech company, or a tech-enabled company. We will continue to see growth in the number of tech companies and the number of technology skilled workers.

COVID-19 has also sharpened the digital divide. As schooling moves online, students without affordable broadband access and laptops are at risk of being left behind. Telemedicine has seen great adoption and social benefits, but communities without broadband access cannot benefit. Billions of people around the world are still not connected. The pandemic has drawn into stark focus the need to narrow the digital divide between and within countries. And we need to enable institutions and individuals to develop the digital skills to flourish in a technology-enabled future.

Some technology companies have enjoyed great success but have not always earned the trust and respect of political leaders. It’s no surprise that our industry is facing greater calls for corporate responsibility and regulation in several jurisdictions globally. And so we have important work on both transformations – contributing to our customers’ digital transformations, and to new regulatory frameworks that will support innovation and greater corporate responsibility.

What is your vision for your team regarding UN engagement, particularly on over-arching UN-wide efforts to respond to COVID-19 and a sustainable and resilient recovery?

Across Microsoft, we have several engagements with the UN that are intended to help the UN amplify its efforts in a wide range of areas. Our representation office focuses on how we can help those initiatives be more impactful and help our Microsoft colleagues engage the many parts of the UN system in a way that best meets the UN’s needs.

Our initial focus will be on supporting and promoting cooperation with the UN to advance progress in six key areas: climate action; human rights; strong institutions; decent work and economic growth; quality education; and broadband availability and accessibility.

Our partnerships support the Secretary-General’s plan for a comprehensive UN response to COVID-19 to save lives, protect societies, and recover better. We will continue our projects that contribute to a sustainable and inclusive economic recovery.

Since March 2020, our senior leaders have been working with the leaders at WHO to develop big data solutions that will greatly increase the scientific capacity of WHO to address COVID-19 and future health challenges. This work has implications for all nations that are dealing with the effects of the pandemic.

We also focus on digital inclusion initiatives. Our colleagues have promoted innovative, lower-cost solutions to bring broadband access to rural Africa because getting the world online will help build sustainable and inclusive societies. Five years ago, I visited a demonstration project in Mawingu, Kenya, for a low-cost broadband solution using unused spectrum allocated to broadcast television. That technology is now proven, and there is a group of local companies ready to deploy scale solutions in Africa. Our team is focused on their last mile: how we can help those projects get financing so they can bring broadband to millions of people at affordable prices.

Microsoft colleagues have been working for years on education opportunities for refugees and internally displaced people. The Learning Passport began as a partnership among UNICEF, Microsoft and the University of Cambridge. The program was designed to provide education for internally displaced and refugee children through a digital remote learning platform. It has now undergone rapid expansion to help countries roll out their online curricula for children and youth whose schools were forced to close due to COVID-19. The platform will also provide key resources to teachers and educators who need to adapt to online learning quickly.

Protecting human rights remains essential across everything we do. We have an important partnership with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to support their work with a technology tool, Rights View, that enables them to monitor human rights developments around the world.

The vision for our UN Affairs team is to engage with the UN community, build relationships and learn, and help make Microsoft’s partnerships more impactful.

COVID-19 delays within UN processes on climate change and biodiversity notwithstanding, Microsoft has announced impressive leadership initiatives in the sustainability space.  Could you talk about those and the synergies you hope to see in bringing those into and partnering with the UN?

Around the time the US Administration announced its withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, our company leadership decided that we needed to do more directly not only to reduce, but to reverse our environmental impact. We have chosen four focus areas: carbon, water, biodiversity, and waste. We have set bold goals for ourselves, based on rigorous environmental standards and business planning. For example, we have pledged to be carbon negative on Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions by 2030 and to achieve net zero carbon emissions for our Scope 1 and 2 emissions for the 75 years of the company’s existence by 2050.

Companies need to share and learn from each other how we to make progress towards these kinds of goals. The NetZero Coalition is a forum we helped form for this purpose. We want to share aspirations and operational experiences so that eventually, small, medium and large size organizations can learn how to implement programs that are economically sound, and ambitiously reduce carbon emissions.

The UN and its agencies have been on a similar journey, researching and learning more about how to tackle climate change collectively. With our engagements with the UN, we hope that we can expand the reach and amplify the learnings on how organizations, large and small, can move from aspiration to achieving measurable and ambitious operational goals.

Let’s switch gears to the digital economy. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has issued a Digital Cooperation Roadmap. Through USCIB, Microsoft actively contributed to advocating for an Internet Governance architecture that would build upon the current Internet Governance Forum. The UN Roadmap also addresses connectivity, privacy protections and human rights, and cybersecurity. Overall, how would Microsoft like to see this Roadmap carried forward in the UN – recognizing that many member states still may lack a strong digital infrastructure?

The Roadmap for Digital Cooperation embraces a multi-stakeholder approach that Microsoft, USCIB and others have been advocating over a number of years. It is important for USCIB and our fellow members to remain engaged. We hope that the progress we made together to shape the vision for the eight areas for action can be advanced to make ambitious progress in implementation, engaging multi-stakeholder processes. The appointment of a UN Technology Envoy will be a welcome step.

Microsoft has embraced the opportunity to contribute to the Roundtable process this year, including as co-champion of the section on Digital Trust and Security. Our company had an opportunity to participate in important discussions to advance broader understanding of the strong linkage between digital trust and security, and how essential they are to protecting the digital environment that enables progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.

As you note in your question, many member states are still building their digital infrastructure and so we believe it is important to devote significant energy to helping them build their digital capacities.  Affordable broadband connectivity, guaranteeing human rights, and commitment to keeping the Internet free, open and secure, and building capacity for digital trust and security are important priorities.

And in all countries, there is important work to be done promoting inclusive economic recovery, addressing the digital divides with affordable broadband access, skilling workers for greater economic rewards, and remotely teaching students.

Microsoft has been an active contributor to the UN Open-Ended Working Group on Cybersecurity, a multi-stakeholder group. This has enabled business to provide critical technical expertise to security-related discussions. USCIB members are concerned about the efforts of Russia, China, and others to press for a binding UN cybersecurity treaty or other legal instrument. How can we leverage groups like the Open-Ended Working Group to build broader support for our view that a UN binding cybersecurity instrument risks doing more harm than good?

We can all benefit from the expanding number of nations that make cybersecurity a priority. Perhaps the clearest message from the OEWG process is that nations want to build their capacity, both to keep themselves more secure and to deepen their understanding of cybersecurity practices, norms and international protections.

Cybersecurity is also being addressed in other international fora. The Paris Call now has 78 nations as signatories (as well as nearly 1000 local government, civil society and private sector endorsers). We have all pledged to support nine widely accepted principles, and to work together to help elaborate and implement the principles. Siemens is leading a group of companies to improve supply chain security, called the Charter of Trust. Microsoft helped launch the Cybersecurity Tech Accord to collaborate on making products more secure over their lifetimes. At the OECD, a group has been working to elaborate how a “no hacking back” principle could be applied in practice. These represent just a fraction of the initiatives that have emerged in recent years to promote a safer cyberspace.

Most significantly, we need to make progress expanding the number of nations that can engage fully on cybersecurity practices and policy, and we need to work inclusively to build from principles that have already been agreed to more concrete norms and practices. And then, we can evaluate how to approach new legal instruments.

As you know, USCIB has worked with UN agencies on behalf of its members for decades and is conscious of the opportunities, even under the current circumstances, to support and advance the effectiveness of UN efforts by crowding in U.S. private sector innovation and hands-on engagement. As a valued member of USCIB, where would Microsoft like to see USCIB focus to pursue opportunities to co-create practical shared value with UN partners looking ahead towards rebuilding better and more sustainably?

We need USCIB’s leadership to help advance inclusive global governance innovations. USCIB members can help create new opportunities by sharing and learning from each other on how we can collectively address the big challenges, like strengthening our global capacity and cooperation for public health and pandemic response.

We are all experiencing together the COVID-19 pandemic and the breakdowns and gaps in our global economy that have prevented us from better containment and care. Governments will address these issues – including rethinking some critical supply chains – and private sector actors should be deeply engaged in contributing to the new solutions. Along with civil society, which plays an especially important role in global health, we can all engage to help build an improved system for global cooperation and national preparedness to better manage public health challenges.

Climate change can seem such an overwhelming challenge that it can be difficult to know where private sector actors should start. Across the full range of our economy, one can see innovations and experimentation that hold promise for reducing our climate impact. USCIB can be a valuable convener for how we can learn from each other and how we can strengthen the UN’s efforts through broader cooperation and commitment.

Finally, we should also devote time and effort together to share views and try and build consensus on how our global institutions should be reformed and strengthened. We seem to be at an inflection point where the weaknesses of our global governance systems have been highlighted, but the reforms have not been elaborated and agreed. The missions of many global institutions are important to the USCIB members, and it’s an opportune time to reimagine how global governance can become more inclusive and effective.