The New Year brings a renewed spirit of hope and optimism that the U.S. economy will continue its recovery from one of the longest economic recessions ever. Forwarders enjoying steady increases in their air cargo and overall trade activity should hope that recent recommendations submitted to the White House by the President’s Export Council are implemented soon to help assure the good fortune continues.
The council’s midterm report outlines achievements and recommendations in the areas of global competitiveness, export promotion and advocacy, export administration, manufacturing, services and others. Many of these suggestions may not directly impact freight forwarders, but all are likely to affect their customers.
The recent midterm elections brought a dramatic power shift in the U.S. Congress, likely to be challenging for the administration. Nevertheless, we hope that President Obama will be able to continue to work with Congress – perhaps a more favorable Congress on trade issues, given the shift to Republican control – to ensure passage of trade promotion authority, setting the stage for broadening the U.S. trade agenda. This work should address issues such as removing barriers to trade, strengthening protections for trade secrets and issues relating to digital trade. Hopefully this will lead to comprehensive trade agreements with Asia and Europe that will set the stage for increased shipping volumes for forwarders and their customers.
The report urges the administration to set an ambitious goal of upgrading the nation’s aging transportation infrastructure network, particularly by improving roads, rail lines, energy grids, pipelines, ports, airports and border crossings – all of which need a great deal of attention.
The recommendations also call for the pursuit of additional open skies agreements aimed at opening up more flight routes between the United States and other nations, with the goal of bringing down barriers to travel and trade. Forwarders and their customers will likely benefit from the increase in service and carrier choice by virtue of such agreements.
A number of countries have started to pursue policies to prevent the sale of products manufactured to U.S. standards, or to leverage regulatory differences to impede market access for U.S. products. The report therefore recommends the administration promote the acceptance of U.S. standards in foreign markets to promote cooperative regulatory practices. The air cargo industry has long advocated for regulatory harmonization in such areas as advanced data requirements, customs regulations and, most recently, lithium battery requirements, making this a favorable recommendation for our industry.
The report encourages the administration to lead in encouraging small- and medium-sized exporters on new thinking to promote trade and simplifying international customs, liability and consumer redress policies. A “whole government” approach should be taken domestically to increase cooperation among the International Trade Administration, the Ex-Im Bank, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to ensure that federal trade tools, promotion programs and resources address the unique needs of small- to medium-sized businesses.
The air cargo industry welcomes a recommendation to harmonize trusted trader programs between Canada and the U.S., a yet-to-be-realized initiative that would help improve North American trade and supply chains. The same should be done with Mexico, with bilateral agency certifications tending toward mutual recognition. Rules that prioritize regional rather than national content should be enacted.
As the U.S. proceeds with its single-window access for streamlining the export/import process, a final recommendation in the report calls for completing the move of the remaining departments and agencies involved in export licensing to a single IT system. Such a system will simplify the licensing process and introduce commonality between the agencies that will improve regulatory clarity and reduce the interpretive burden on all U.S. exporters and importers.
Unfortunately, a few important issues were left out of the recommendations, which failed to address the burdensome process for shippers who require access to passenger flights. We would like to have seen proposals to revamp known shipper requirements in light of 100 percent cargo screening, use of private canines to expedite the screening process itself and a call for an institutional review of ill-conceived regulations that do nothing to promote air cargo security but nevertheless continue to hamper forwarder and airline cargo business growth.
Hopefully, while implementing the President’s Export Council report recommendations, the administration will work with the TSA in addressing these issues so that forwarders can fully assist their customers in achieving our nation’s export goals.