The Huffington Post
By Arun M. Kumar
One-quarter of U.S. GDP growth over the past 15 years is attributable to U.S. exports, and 11.5 million Americans go to work every day because our companies sell best-in-class goods and services overseas. But many of us are already aware that our ability to compete and export is impeded by market access restrictions such as tariffs. Just as importantly if lesser known, market access is also restricted by non-tariff barriers that include country-specific technical standards, import quotas and licensing, and price controls. These barriers number in the thousands, and exist in economies throughout the world.
That is precisely why the U.S. Commercial Service, a part of the U.S. Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration (ITA), prioritizes opening markets for American firms, including small businesses. This begins with our trade specialists in over 100 U.S. Export Assistance Centers and 75 plus international markets. They are the first line of defense against non-tariff barriers. In addition, we have experts located at our Commercial Service headquarters in Washington, DC. Our specialists provide information to businesses on distinct trade barriers in different countries. And when an American business needs guidance to overcome barriers in global markets, they are at the ready, often working closely with the ITA’s Enforcement and Compliance unit (which allows businesses to easily report suspected trade barriers on http://tcc.export.gov).
Our country and regional experts also work with their counterparts in a wide array of countries to establish a common understanding of sound and transparent regulatory practices.
The U.S.-Canada Regulatory Cooperation Council, a joint body to harmonize regulatory activities, has taken steps to help exporters while protecting health, safety, and the environment. Those include establishing a common electronic approval system for pharmaceuticals, achieving mutual recognition of animal disease zoning and food safety, and aligning risk assessment methodologies for pesticides.
Progress in this work sometimes takes years, but when it happens, it is truly meaningful. After 10 years of collaboration under the U.S.-Brazil Commercial Dialogue as well as bilateral discussions between the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and Brazil’s National Institute for Industrial Property, our two countries launched a patent work-sharing pilot program. The Patent Prosecution Highway will assist us in our joint efforts to streamline patent examination processes and reduce backlogs, allowing for faster market entry and facilitating greater two-way investment.
Tackling barriers is often one element of a whole-of-government approach to increasing bilateral trade with some of the largest, most important markets in the world. Under our Strategic and Commercial Dialogue with India, we developed specific workstreams related to standards harmonization, access for businesses of all sizes to information on national standards, conformity assessment, and sharing best practices to facilitate trade at the border.
With China, we have in place a longstanding official mechanism, the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT). Through the JCCT, China has made commitments to streamline drug and medical device approvals, apply its antitrust rules in a nondiscriminatory way, suspend IT measures in the banking sector that previously discriminated against foreign products, strengthen its law protecting trade secrets, and ensure non-discriminatory treatment of foreign firms as it creates policies to develop its semiconductor industry. We are intently focused on implementing these and other commitments.
Then, there is our work to secure two historic trade agreements that will reduce and eliminate tariff and non-tariff barriers in markets comprising more than 60% of global GDP.
Through the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, we are working to ensure our companies have better access to a region with the fastest-growing middle class on earth. TPP will not only remove 18,000 tariffs on made-in-America goods and services. It will also remove non-tariff barriers such as localization rules and restrictions on data flows.
In Europe, we are creating new market opportunities for U.S. firms, especially SMEs, through the development of negotiating proposals for T-TIP; linking U.S. and EU SMEs and innovation clusters; securing business climate improvements; and assisting efforts to ensure the free flow of digital data and an open Digital Single Market.
And as the global economy becomes the digital economy, we are prepared to support American businesses in this new global marketplace. We launched a Digital Trade Officer initiative at overseas posts designed to address 21st century trade barriers and help the digital economy thrive. The program will assist U.S. companies in navigating digital policy and regulatory issues in foreign markets.
Helping companies break down obstacles to global trade is central to the work of the Commercial Service.