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50

JUNE 2017

|

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA FCS VP.

Contact:

steve.morrison@trade.gov

or (202) 482-9088

FCS VP VOICE

| BY STEVE MORRISON AFSA NEWS

Let’s Talk (Commercial) Dialogues

According to the International

Trade Administration,“com-

mercial dialogues” exist to

provide opportunities for the

United States and its trad-

ing partners to explore each

other’s regulations and busi-

ness climate and resolve by

pragmatic means what might

otherwise develop into a trade

dispute.

But are commercial dia-

logues getting the job done,

helping to settle some deep-

seated trade problem or bar-

rier, or are they just another

excuse to travel?

U.S. bilateral commercial

dialogues began, arguably, in

1983 with the establishment

of the U.S.-China Joint Com-

mission on Commerce and

Trade. Since then, commercial

dialogues have cropped up

all over the place including

Europe, Latin America and

Asia.

Even Africa has gotten into

the game with two dialogues

in place and possibly one

more to come soon, if a

proposed U.S.-Nigeria com-

mercial dialogue gets up and

running.

Vision 2020, a self-help

group of like-minded “futurist”

colleagues, is attempting to

establish howmany commer-

cial dialogues currently exist

between the United States

and our trading partners.

They are asking important

questions about the agree-

ment, such as: How is the

work being done at post tied

to the mission of the ITA?

What are the benefits to U.S.

trade?What are the financial,

resource and staffing costs

associated with these efforts?

The answers to these ques-

tions will give future leaders a

framework to decide whether

to go forward with current or

new commercial dialogues.

Vision 2020 is also

assessing ITA partner, senior

management and private sec-

tor involvement to ensure that

future dialogues have the full

backing of key stakeholders.

Commercial dialogues

are sometimes referenced in

Country Commercial Guides

prepared by embassies; they

appear in forward job plans

and EERs; and, until recently,

they used to figure promi-

nently in ITA industry, regional

and country quad charts

(remember those?).

But in the last few years

commercial dialogues have

gotten a bad reputation. In

some cases, FCS staff at post

determined that having an

official dialogue would not

benefit the host country or the

United States, but ITAman-

agement inWashington, D.C.,

overrode those concerns.

Some say commercial

dialogues are being used as

an excuse for increased head-

quarters travel.“Hands-on”

in-country work, the critics

argue, should be reserved for

officers at post and not used

as a justification for unneces-

sary and often duplicative

travel by HQ staff.

A “sunset” provision for

commercial dialogues is also

being discussed. After all,

the dialogue is a means to

an end, not an accomplish-

ment itself, proponents say.

They see a need to regularly

assess whether the dialogue

continues to serve the ITA

mission and remains the best

mechanism to advance our

objectives.

As the Trump admin-

istration demands new

approaches to leveling the

playing field for U.S. business,

commercial dialogues could

be one vehicle.

Already, there seems to

be a new eagerness for host

country officials to meet with

their U.S. counterparts, as

recently confirmed Secre-

tary of CommerceWilbur

Ross experienced on a trip to

Japan.

Perhaps now is the best

time to have that stock-taking

of when and where commer-

cial dialogues work best or, as

one former under secretary

put it,“whether the juice is

worth the squeeze.”

To that end, I invite your

input.What has been your

experience of commercial

dialogues? How have they

affected your work—positively

or negatively—promoting U.S.

exports or investment into the

United States?

Please send your

responses to me at Steve.

Morrison@trade.gov

.

n

NEWS BRIEF

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.

The

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).

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Please send feedback and submissions to

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n

PUBLISHED BY THE AMERICAN FOREIGN SERVICE ASSOCIATION

MAY 2017

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