ICC’s 90th, ATA Carnet’s 40th on display as USCIB members celebrate
By Bill Armbruster
Over 300 USCIB members and guests gathered at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York on October 8 to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the International Chamber of Commerce and the 40th anniversary of the ATA Carnet system in the United States.
The annual dinner featured a star-studded trio of speakers: U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, ICC Chairman Victor Fung, and CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour.
Noting that governments have tended to turn inward during periods of economic difficulty, Secretary Locke said they should instead foster trade as other sources of growth such as consumer and business spending deteriorate. To that end, the first priority on his trade agenda is to ramp up the Commerce Department’s trade promotion activities.
“Right now, U.S. companies aren’t anywhere near maximizing their export potential,” Mr. Locke said, noting that 97 percent of U.S. exporters are small- and medium-size businesses, but that they only account for 30 percent of export value. Moreover, of the U.S. companies that do export, 58 percent export to just one country.
Action needed on visas and export controls
Mr. Locke said he was looking forward to working with USCIB “to help educate U.S. companies about the ATA Carnet system, which allows temporary duty-free, tax-free exports of commercial samples, professional equipments and goods displayed at trade shows.”
The Commerce Secretary drew applause from the audience when he stressed the need for the U.S. to adopt a more flexible visa policy.
“The United States often makes it too difficult for foreign company executives to enter here to do business,” he said, noting that U.S. companies have lost billions of dollars in sales because their customers and potential customers were denied visas. Boeing, for example, recently had to delay the delivery of a $250 million freighter because an inspector from the Chinese aviation authority didn’t receive his visa on time, Mr. Locke said.
Mr. Locke said another top priority is reform of the U.S. export-control system to free American companies “from an outdated set of rules that often prevents them from selling items that are readily available from non-U.S. companies.” One goal is to eliminate export-license requirements for products with primarily commercial applications sold to some 40 to 60 U.S. allies. Another is to implement a fast-track review procedure for exports to other countries. He also called for improved intellectual-property protection, particularly enforcement of trade agreements.
Praise for ICC
Secretary Locke hailed the ICC, saying: “You’ve been a long-time advocate for the power of open markets to unlock human potential across the globe – and your work, and that of the U.S. Council for International Business, has never been more important than now.”
Trade promotion is nothing new for the Commerce Secretary. During his tenure as governor of Washington from 1997 to 2005, he helped open doors for businesses in his state by leading multiple trade missions to Asia, Mexico and Europe. His visits to China are credited with helping to more than double exports by Washington companies to over $5 billion per year.
Mr. Fung, who became ICC chairman in July 2008, said the organization’s 90th anniversary has been a year-long, worldwide affairs, including the launch of the ICC Research Foundation and the World Chambers Congress in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The research foundation’s mission is to provide intellectual leadership on public policy issues, with a focus on global trade and investment.
“We must resist protectionism and narrow economic nationalism, while further strengthening the multilateral trading system by concluding the Doha Round,” said Mr. Fung, chairman of the Hong Kong-based Li & Fung Group of companies.
Turning to the upcoming UN summit on climate change, which takes place in Copenhagen in December, the ICC leader stressed the need “to find a concerted and collaborative route to resolve the conflicting demands of stimulating quality growth while slowing greenhouse gas emissions with a transition to less carbon-intensive economies.”
Ms. Amanpour, who has won a bushel of awards for her reporting from hotspots around the globe as CNN’s chief international correspondent, noted the applause that greeted Secretary Locke’s comments about the impact of visa denials to foreign business people. Such restrictions “impoverish understanding,” she said, adding that she struggles against unreasonable barriers to information.
Citing her documentary series “Generation Islam” this past summer, the CNN correspondent said the U.S. cannot afford to have another generation of Muslim youth who view it as the enemy. Both global business and the journalism community have a role to play in illuminating the sources of conflict around the world, said Ms. Amanpour, who now has her own 30-minute program, Amanpour, on CNN International on weekday evenings. She also has a one-hour program on CNN on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
Four Decades of ATA Carnets in the United States
Excerpts from remarks by USCIB President and CEO Peter M. Robinson
2009 marks the fortieth anniversary of the ATA Carnet system in the United States. For those of you who don’t know, a Carnet is an internationally recognized customs document that allows goods to move temporarily into some 80 countries and customs territories around the world, without having to pay duties or taxes.
This unique system was originally conceived of by ICC, together with the World Customs Organization, and we at USCIB worked closely with our government, including U.S. Customs and the Commerce Department, to get it adopted here four decades ago.
As Secretary Locke mentioned, USCIB and the Commerce Department continue to work together. Recently a Memorandum of Agreement was signed which will allow us to join forces to extend awareness of the benefits of Carnets among smaller U.S. exporters. This is the kind of focused business-government partnership that can make a real difference in driving U.S. exports, investment and economic growth.
Earlier, [USCIB Chairman] Bill Parrett extended our gratitude to our service providers, Roanoke Trade Services and the Corporation for International Business. To [Roanoke and CIB Chairmen] Bill Sterrett and Bruce Wilson, let me just add my own words of thanks for all that you have done over the years to support USCIB and to extend and improve the system, for the benefit of USCIB’s members and Carnet users worldwide.
Both the ICC and Carnet connections are unique to USCIB, part of the value added we bring to our members. Needless to say, something like an ATA Carnet can save companies a lot of time, money and hassle. Much of corporate America, both large and small companies make use of Carnets. USCIB members familiar with the system include, Boeing, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, Cisco, Tiffany and Ringling Brothers. And Carnets are always popular with news-gathering operations like ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and… CNN!
Bill Armbruster is the former editor of Shipping Digest and covered USCIB’s Annual Dinner for many years for Shipping Digest and the Journal of Commerce.