Global Business Welcomes New WTO Director-General Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Photo credit: Martial Trezzini/EPA, via Shutterstock

USCIB members had two occasions in early June to hear from the new World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on her priorities for global trade and on opportunities for business to engage with her on this agenda in the months ahead.

During the annual International Organization of Employers (IOE) General Council meeting, newly-elected IOE President Michele Parmelee (and USCIB Vice Chair) introduced Okonjo-Iweala, who gave a keynote address and then participated in a panel moderated by Parmelee. The panel, which also featured International Labor Organization (ILO) Director General Guy Ryder and Spain’s Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzales Laya, discussed the linkages between trade and employment, as well as what is needed to fully unleash the potential of trade in order to rebuild a global economy still reeling from the impact of COVID-19.

“Trade integration, underpinned by the multilateral rules framework, has brought about higher productivity, greater competition, lower prices and improved living standards,” said Okonjo-Iweala. She made the point that “trade is about people,” and asked IOE to help explain to the public that the WTO is not only about rules but about touching the lives of people in the street. She encouraged IOE to engage with WTO in demonstrating the impact of trade on job creation.

Later in the week, in another major exchange with international business through the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), Okonjo-Iweala stressed the importance of engaging more with companies to help the WTO better develop policies for moving goods across borders.

“USCIB, the sole U.S. affiliate of the ICC, will continue to engage through ICC in the development of a process for more frequent, smaller group discussions on industry concerns,” said USCIB Director for Investment, Trade, and China Alice Slayton Clark. “As part of her engagement with industry, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is keen to learn how to better advance micro, small and medium enterprises that struggle to participate in global value chains and are currently handicapped by insufficient trade financing during the pandemic downturn.”

According to Clark, Okonjo-Iweala acknowledged that the WTO is facing a credibility crisis, no longer viewed as an institution “for people.” ​She indicated that to dispel this image, the WTO must return to the goals laid out in its preamble: trade negotiation should increase living standards, create jobs, and support sustainable development, yielding tangible benefits for all.  According to Okonjo-Iweala, this will also help industry overcome the misperception that it neglects civil society concerns.

Finally, Okonjo-Iweala expressed hope that, to reestablish the WTO as a functional body, the twelfth WTO Ministerial Conference in Geneva in December 2021 will yield results in four key areas:

  • Conclude twenty-year-old negotiations to curb fishery subsidies, delivering on goals from the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
  • Agree on a Trade and Health Initiative, to enhance international rules on addressing public health emergencies and supply chain resiliency.
  • Agree to strengthen food security, including a permanent solution to the issue of public stockholding programs especially in the face of global pandemics.
  • Agree on how to reform the dispute settlement mechanism so the WTO can resume adjudicatory functions.

She also hopes the ministerial will mark significant advancement in the Joint Initiative on E-commerce, the Joint Initiative on Services Domestic Regulation, and women empowerment initiatives. ​Further, Okonjo-Iweala looks for nations to relaunch negotiations on an environmental goods agreement and push for measures that enhance sustainability and the circular economy. Okonjo-Iweala would like ​business to ​support and assist ​​in the advancement of these outcomes.

USCIB Board Member Rick Johnston (Citi) Elected Chair of Business at OECD

Charles R. Johnston in 2015

USCIB Board of Directors member and Chair of USCIB’s Trade and Investment Committee Charles (Rick) Johnston has been elected as the new Chair of Business at OECD (BIAC). BIAC’s General Assembly elected Johnston on May 19 and will succeed Phil O’Reilly.

According to a BIAC media release, Johnston will lead high-level engagement opportunities, including BIAC’s participation in the annual OECD Ministerial Council Meeting and the annual meeting with the OECD Secretary General and Ambassadors. He will also guide BIAC’s overall strategy ensuring that BIAC represents the broad interests of its members.

“It is a time of transformation and rejuvenation,” Johnston said at the General Assembly meeting. “The OECD is about to hand the reins over to Mathias Cormann, its new secretary general. In that position, Mr. Cormann will lead the Organization as it takes on an enhanced role for guiding its Members and others in a sustainable recovery from a devastating global pandemic, and in an era that sees fundamental challenges to the potency of democratic governance and market-based economies. Our service as a trusted and credible adviser to the OECD has never been more important.”

Click here to view BIAC’s media release.

 

Joint Business Statement on Trusted Government Access to Personal Data

In light of the OECD’s work to develop policy guidance for trusted government access to personal data held by the private sector, USCIB joined with Business at OECD (BIAC) and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) to release a joint business statement that addresses the OECD Committee on Digital Economy Policy’s (CDEP).

“Notably, the joint statement garnered the support of twenty-three business organizations from around the world,” said USCIB Vice President for ICT Policy Barbara Wanner.

The group of companies commended CDEP on its effort to bolster trust and minimize disruptions to global data flows with a set of high-level principles on government access to personal data held by the private sector.

The letter noted: “the benefits of trade depend on the trusted flow of data between countries. Global data flows have enabled more efficient production, manufacturing and distribution of much needed medical equipment, along with the digital services that are foundational to the continuity of our lives, our communities, societies and governments. Nevertheless, we are seeing trust in international data flows being eroded over concerns that government demands to access data may conflict with universal human rights and freedoms, including privacy rights, or cause concerns and conflicts with domestic laws when such access transcends borders. These increased concerns and reduced trust have led to uncertainty that may discourage individuals’, businesses’, and even governments’ participation in a global economy, and can negatively impact economic growth.”

The business coalition emphasized the urgency of articulating common practices shared by OECD members on trusted government access to personal data held by the private sector and believe that the OECD is in a unique position to spearhead this global effort. The CDEP can reinforce the strong traditions of OECD members in respecting the rule of law, alleviate uncertainty on these issues, and ultimately help to expand trust in trade and digital technologies. An OECD instrument setting out high-level principles and guidance, outlining necessary shared safeguards to ensure a high standard of privacy, would be a critical contribution to set a firm foundation for building trust, similar to the OECD Privacy Guidelines and its Council Recommendations on Artificial Intelligence.

The statement was presented to members of the special governments-only OECD drafting group in time for their May 6 meeting, as well as to the broader membership of the OECD Committee on Digital Economy Policy.

This topic will also be the focus of a panel discussion featured in the May 25 USCIB/BIAC/OECD Digital Economy Conference, “A Decade of OECD Internet Principles: Policy-Making in a Data-Driven World.” To register, please click here.

USCIB Defends Foreign Direct Investment at OECD

USCIB has led private sector participation at a series of recent events organized by the OECD’s Investment Committee.  Kimberley Claman, director of international government affairs in Citi’s Washington office, was a lead speaker for the Business at OECD (BIAC) delegation in a condensed, virtual OECD annual International Investment Agreements Conference on March 29.

During a portion of the conference, titled “The Future of International Investment Agreements” on March 29, Claman laid out a coherent business vision on the importance of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) flows, especially in a post-pandemic world, and of strong investment agreements to help provide the certainty, assurance and enforceability required by investors. “Typical of these OECD sessions, other speakers were skeptical of FDI and, especially of investment treaties, so having a strong business voice is critical,” said USCIB Senior Advisor Shaun Donnelly. “Kimberley did a great job.”

Donnelly returned to the OECD investment policy debates on March 31 as a lead speaker for BIAC in an early-morning, virtual seminar at the fifth session of the OECD’s long-running “FDI Qualities” policy dialogue. OECD staff laid out its latest research and analysis on FDI’s impact to an audience that included a diverse group of academics, NGOs and business representatives. The presentation focused on four areas selected from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)– gender inclusivity, quality jobs and productivity enhancement, low carbon intensity, and promoting small and medium enterprises (SMEs).  Donnelly was the lead business commentator on the jobs and productivity session and spoke in the gender discussion, bringing a real-world, business perspective to the oftentimes academic nature of OECD seminars.

Donnelly was also back on the agenda as part of the BIAC Investment Committee leadership in the formal “stakeholder dialogue” with government representatives on the OECD Investment Committee at their April 8 wrap-up session following a week of OECD meetings.  This “stakeholder” session gave BIAC an opportunity to underline directly to the OECD committee its business perspectives and priorities on investment policy in a post-pandemic period.

“We see these OECD sessions on FDI policies, especially policies related to international investment agreements as important opportunities to present a business perspective on why FDI is so important to global economic growth, integration, trade and jobs,” said Donnelly, who is a retired U.S. Ambassador and trade negotiator.

Donnelly added: “Frankly, FDI, investment treaties and global economic integration are under unfair political attacks here at home and around the world.  We as business need to tell our story—how international investment flows, both inward and outward, are good for the American economy.  We welcome these opportunities to talk investment issues, not just with like-minded business groups but also with broader mix of participants that we find at OECD, UNCTAD and other UN sessions.  We are particularly grateful to Kimberley Claman from USCIB member company Citi for making time to take on a major speaking role. She did a fantastic job presenting how businesses in the real world approach investment decisions, and how those decisions are good for our economy.”

USCIB Provides Input to OECD Task Force on Countering Illicit Trade

Through Business at OECD (BIAC), USCIB recently had an opportunity to contribute to an OECD Task Force on Countering Illicit Trade Plenary Meeting. During the Plenary, the Chair of BIAC’s Anti-Illicit Trade Expert Group and Chair of USCIB’s Customs and Trade Facilitation Committee, David Luna, highlighted the significant impact of illicit trade on the economy, businesses and people’s welfare. Luna also stressed the importance of collaboration among all stakeholders, including public and private, to counter the significant risks posed by illicit trade.

Luna used this platform to officially announce the launch of a new partnership program with the OECD, which seeks to strengthen public-private sector collaboration on tackling illicit trade. The partnership will commence with a special project focused on “the challenges of illicit trade for e-commerce” and will soon be followed by another project on “illicit trade in high-risk areas at the time of Covid-19.”

The partnership is also looking into launching two additional potential projects on Maritime Transports and Free Trade Zones.

USCIB Joins COVID-19 Global Workplace Challenge

In advance of World Immunization Week later this month, USCIB has announced on April 6 that it has taken the “COVID-19 Global Workplace Challenge”—a commitment by companies to listen to employees’ needs and concerns about COVID-19 and encourage vaccine confidence and uptake.

The “Workplace Challenge” was launched this spring by Business Partners to CONVINCE, a multi-sector effort to empower a “vaccine-literate” public, based on trust in science and aligned commitment to future COVID-19 vaccines and other novel countermeasures.

“Business can play a pivotal role in addressing vaccine hesitancy with its extensive reach and the high level of trust imbued in employers by their employees,” said USCIB President and CEO Peter Robinson. “I encourage other companies and organizations around the globe to join the Workplace Challenge and, by doing so, showcase their commitment to make their workplaces safer and provide up-to-date information from health professionals to follow the science.

By joining the Workplace Challenge, USCIB agrees to:

  • Listen to employees’ needs and concerns about the impact and prevention of COVID-19
  • Follow the latest public health guidance to protect myself, my employees, my workplace, my customers, and my community from COVID-19
  • Promote vaccine literacy based on the latest scientific evidence of vaccination benefits and risks
  • Encourage vaccine confidence and uptake
  • Advocate for accessible, equitable, and timely vaccination of employees
  • Engage with communities, schools, faith-based organizations and public health leaders to stop the spread of COVID-19

For more information on Business Partners to CONVINCE or to join the Workplace Challenge, please visit: www.businesspartners2convince.org.

USCIB Welcomes Appointment of Mathias Cormann as New Head of OECD

Mathias Cormann speaks during a Senate inquiry at Parliament House in Canberra, October 20, 2020. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

New York, N.Y., March 15, 2021—The United States Council for International Business (USCIB), which represents many of the world’s leading companies and which serves as the U.S. Member Organization of Business at OECD (BIAC), welcomed the announcement of Mathias Cormann, a former Australian finance minister, as the candidate to be appointed the next OECD Secretary General.

Phil O’Reilly, chair of Business at OECD, noted that the OECD’s ability to bring solutions to global challenges relies on its effective consultation with the private sector. “Our input has been critical to the success and implementation of major OECD initiatives,” O’Reilly stated. “Our strengthened collaboration will be essential to further increase the OECD’s policy impact in the coming years.”

“Multilateralism matters now, more than ever, and all of us at USCIB look forward to a productive partnership and a collaborative relationship with the new OECD Secretary General,” said USCIB President and CEO Peter Robinson. “USCIB and our members rely on BIAC’s work with the OECD to achieve the right policy responses and guidance. This cooperation will be critical as we all work together towards economic and social recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Cormann will succeed Ángel Gurría following his 15-year tenure with the Organization. “We thank Mr. Gurría for his strong leadership and look forward to hitting the ground running with Mr. Cormann to show that multilateralism delivers clear benefits for business and societies,” stated Hanni Rosenbaum, executive director of Business at OECDRick Johnston, Managing Director, International Government Affairs at Citibank, and a vice chair of Business at OECD, joined Robinson in expressing deep appreciation to Secretary-General Gurria for a long and cooperative relationship over his tenure at OECD.

Cormann will assume the role of Secretary General on June 1, 2021 and, upon assuming his post, will be the first person from the Asia-Pacific region to lead the OECD.

In Statement on International Women’s Day, USCIB Recognizes Setbacks Women Face Due to COVID-19

New York, N.Y., March 08, 2021 — On this year’s International Women’s Day, USCIB joins the global community in recognizing the critical contributions of women in responding to, and recovering from, the COVID-19 pandemic — often at the cost of hard-fought gains in equality and economic empowerment. Our task going forward is to ensure that these gains are recovered and that progress continues.

USCIB and its members have long championed the critical role of women’s education, employment and entrepreneurship for their own and their families’ health and well-being, as well as for the health and competitiveness of the societies and economies in which we live and do business. The United Nations report on “The Impact of COVID-19 on Women ” highlights the disproportionate impact that the pandemic has had on women and girls and rightly stresses that we must keep this disparity in mind, as well as be purposeful in championing women as we undertake the task of rebuilding our economies. This shared task confronts governments, business and civil society alike.

Through our engagement in the International Organization of Employers (IOE) and Business at OECD (BIAC), we will continue to work with our business counterparts around the world to address the barriers that continue to confront women and girls and to advance the opportunities that will allow them to thrive and our enterprises to prosper.

Please visit the UN Women’s page for International Women’s Day 2021 “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world” for statements, stories and updates.

About USCIB:

USCIB promotes open markets, competitiveness and innovation, sustainable development, and corporate responsibility, supported by international engagement and regulatory coherence. Its members include U.S.-based global companies and professional services firms from every sector of our economy, with operations in every region of the world. As the U.S. affiliate of the International Chamber of Commerce, the International Organization of Employers and Business at OECD (BIAC), USCIB provides business views to policy makers and regulatory authorities worldwide and works to facilitate international trade and investment. More at www.uscib.org.

Robinson Welcomes COVID-19 Vaccine Collaboration Between Merck, Johnson & Johnson

New York, N.Y., March 03, 2021Peter Robinson, president and chief executive of the United States Council for International Business (USCIB), which represents many of America’s leading global companies, released a statement today in reaction to President Joe Biden’s announcement on March 2 that Merck will help make Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot COVID-19 vaccine:

“We at USCIB commend our member companies J&J and Merck for collaborating in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The partnership between these two companies and the commitment of their CEOs, both of which are USCIB Trustees, brings us a great amount of pride and excitement. Over the years, our motto at USCIB has been ‘Global Business Leadership At Work’ and we are pleased that our member companies have been demonstrating that and leading by example.

“The USCIB Foundation meanwhile is also building momentum on our most recent initiative – Business Partners to CONVINCE – a global, multi-sector effort to empower a ‘vaccine-literate’ public, led by employers as trusted messengers to their employees and based on trust in science and aligned commitment to future COVID-19 vaccines and other novel countermeasures.”

USCIB Informs EU With Comments on Sustainable Corporate Governance

As part of the European Green Deal and the European Commission’s (EU) Communication on the (COVID-19) Recovery Plan, the EU has invited stakeholder comments during a public consultation to inform consideration of a possible EU Sustainable Corporate Governance Initiative. USCIB has submitted its comments on February 9, drawing on the expertise of its Committees on Corporate Responsibility and Labor Affairs and Environment.

According to USCIB Senior Vice President for Policy and Global Strategy, Norine Kennedy, the consultation took the form of an online questionnaire, seeking feedback on numerous elements of ESG, and exploring what form an EU-wide framework to promote due diligence, board of directors’ duty of care and stakeholder engagement should take. 

USCIB comments highlighted the fundamental importance of the UN Guiding Principles.  USCIB set out U.S. business concerns about any promulgation of rigid approaches, such as the application of tariffs, sanctions or import restrictions that rightly seek to address human rights or labor rights concerns but – due to their rigidity – inadvertently create a disincentive for long-term supply chain engagement, the use in accordance with the UNGPs of leverage in company supply and value chains, and sustainable remediation.  

“We would welcome an EU approach to these issues that would include sustainability risks, impacts and opportunities into corporate strategy and decisions, as many companies already have,” added Kennedy. “However general principles would be preferable over rigid legal requirements. Flexibility afforded to each company to decide how to include such considerations would be crucial for such general principles to be effective.”

USCIB also encouraged the EU to pursue a fuller holistic dialogue with business and other stakeholders on how to advance sustainable corporate governance in environmental and social areas.

“We support the role business can and should play in respecting human rights” said USCIB Vice President for Corporate Responsibility and Labor Affairs Gabriella Rigg Herzog.  “We strongly encourage the EU to gather business and other stakeholder views through actual dialogue and consultation, with due attention to context, such as ongoing impacts and burdens on companies because of the pandemic’s economic disruption and ongoing constraints, as well as existing business initiatives and systems.”

USCIB will continue to follow and stay in close contact with U.S. government and EU authorities as these deliberations go forward.