SIDO Works to Improve Federal-State Relations, Expand Global Trade at Annual Forum

International trade directors from more than 35 states participated in meetings and discussions with federal officials, foreign dignitaries and other partners at the State International Development Organizations’, or SIDO’s, Washington Forum in Washington, D.C., the first week of April. 

SIDO members met with federal officials to discuss implementation of two recent legislative actions, namely the passage of the Small Business Trade Enhancement Act of 2015, or the State Trade Coordination Act, and the reauthorization of the State Trade and Export Promotions, or STEP, program. During their meetings, SIDO members were able to discuss current and future implementation with majority and minority staff leadership from the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, responsible for legislative oversight of these two issues, as well as the U.S. Department of Commerce and Small Business Administration officials responsible for implementation.

The State Trade Coordination Act included language to help improve the coordination between federal and state trade promotion agencies. To accomplish this, the legislation creates a state-federal working group within the Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee, or TPCC, and requires a member (or organization) of a state trade agency to be on the TPCC. In addition, the act mandates the development of the first-ever state-federal comprehensive plan and requires the establishment of annual state-federal plans to help coordinate activities and resources. Together, these plans will help coordinate both federal and state resources to increase the efficiency of respective trade offices.

SIDO members exchanged their own experiences and best practices in coordinating with federal programs. Later in the conference, SIDO members met with Pat Kirwan, the director of the TPCC at the Commerce Department, to discuss the department’s plans for implementation and provide suggestions for how to make the process the most impactful from the state perspective. “These plans will help to coordinate both federal and state resources to increase the efficiency of each respective trade office,” said Ann Pardalos, manager of Missouri’s International Trade and Investment office.

The conference also hosted the director and staff from the Small Business Administration’s STEP program, which was reauthorized through 2020 in February. Through the U.S. Small Business Administration, STEP provides matching grants each year to states to help U.S. small businesses begin exporting and increase the value of their exports. The grants also support state efforts to help small businesses participate in international trade missions.

“The STEP program has been instrumental in our shared mission to help more small businesses sell their products or services in the global marketplace,” said Andy Karellas, director of federal affairs for SIDO. “Those exports help support and create thousands of good-paying jobs in the states.”

In separate discussions, SIDO members shared their experiences and best practices regarding the STEP program’s application and implementation procedures with majority and minority staff leadership from the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, as well as heard the SBA program office’s evaluation of previous competitions and applications, and their goals for the year ahead. SIDO members saidthe STEP program enables them to conduct additional outreach, trade missions, and focus on new regions to expand their existing services to exporters and potential exporters.

Another important theme of SIDO’s 2016 Washington Forum was international trade partnerships such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or T-Tip, both of which are pending. U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Froman provided an update on the progress of the TPP, a multilateral trade agreement with 11 other nations, which he said would have a positive effect on issues like wage stagnation and income inequality. 

According to Froman, U.S. workers already are competing against low-wage labor in countries like Vietnam, a nation which has significant tariffs on our goods while we have few on theirs. Under TPP, Vietnam has agreed to a labor consistency plan, an enforceable requirement for Vietnam to allow local, self-controlled labor unions to form with the right to strike. In contrast with the Communist nation’s current single union and single labor market system, Froman argued that TPP’s requirements would actually fix the root causes of unfair competition. We can either “yell at the wind about the problems of income inequality, or we can do something about it,” he said.

Froman also provided a brief update on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or T-TIP, which he hopes will conclude negotiations this year. To learn more about T-TIP, participants attended a roundtable hosted by the European Union’s ambassador to the U.S., David O’Sullivan. The roundtable also was attended by trade representatives from more than 20 EU member states. This partnership would bring together two of the world’s leading economies, and estimates suggest the increase in bilateral trade could see a net employment gain of nearly 750,000 jobs in the U.S. 

According to a report produced by the Atlantic Council, Bertelsmann Foundation and the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., TTIP and the Fifty States: Jobs and Growth from Coast to Coast, each state would not only see employment gains, but household income could also rise by up to 13 percent per capita. 

On the final day of their Washington Forum, SIDO members voted to approve a resolution endorsing and highlighting the positive impacts TPP could have on states. 

Members also signed a Memorandum of Intent for Collaborative U.S. Export Promotion and FDI Attraction with Deputy Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade Ken Hyatt, furthering engagement with the U.S. Department of Commerce. Under the MOI, both parties committed to working more closely to improve their service delivery, improve coordination between federal and state partners, and increase awareness among companies of the resources state agencies, SIDO and ITA have at their disposal to grow companies and help them compete internationally.

“This is a quantum leap not only for SIDO and our member states, but also for our relationship with our most important partner, the U.S. Department of Commerce International Trade Administration,” said incoming SIDO President Manny Mencia. 

The Washington Forum also saw the conclusion of Ann Pardalos’ term as president of SIDO. At the conclusion of the forum, SIDO leadership elected Manny Mencia, senior vice president of Enterprise Florida, as the incoming SIDO president. Enterprise Florida has long been a leader in economic development and trade promotion, including being the first state to place principal responsibility for economic development, international trade, research and business image marketing in the hands of a public-private partnership. Mencia leads the organization’s International Trade and Business Development division, which received the President’s E Star Award for Export Promotion Excellence, the nation’s highest honor in recognition of trade development efforts.