2022 Washington International Trade Conference Recap




2022 WITC Program

On Monday, January 31st, and Tuesday, February 1st, 2022, WITA hosted its fourth annual Washington International Trade Conference (WITC). This conference brought together leaders in international trade from across the U.S. and around the world to explore the trade landscape and look toward the future of trade.

The event began with remarks from Kenneth I. Levinson, Executive Director of WITA, as he introduced the first two panelists: Secretary-General Mathias Cormann, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Ambassador Kristen Silverberg, President & COO, Business Roundtable, and former U.S. Ambassador to the European Union. 

The first panel of the conference was primarily focused around the key lessons the OECD has learned about supply chain resilience during the pandemic, and the OECD’s role on risk and key issues with the use of Artificial Intelligence. Cormann explained that improving supply chain resilience is going to be critical in keeping markets open, as well as working with the WTO. He pointed out that it is important to know that even though the global economic recovery is strong and rapid, it has also been uneven. 

Cormann expressed that OECD wants to make it easy for countries to be a part of the conversation when talking about international trade. The OECD is discussing how to be inclusive in a way that is effective and fair, and where trade distortions can be minimized.

The second panel “How Trade and Trade Policies Can Help Achieve Climate Goals” focused on the growing global concern of climate change and how it intersects with trade. The panel discussed the importance of recognizing where the U.S. and its allies now stand on sustainable policies that influence trade, and consider how realistic it would be for less developed countries to accommodate the necessary standard to fight climate change. The panelists agreed on how the interdependency of the environment and trade cannot be overlooked, and that it is not a side issue.

The panelists were Aik Hoe Lim, Director, Trade and Environment Division, World Trade Organization, Kelly K. Milton, Assistant USTR, Environment and Natural Resources, Ambassador Gloria Abraham Peralta, Costa Rica’s Permanent Representative to the WTO, and co-Chair of the WTO’s Trade and Environmental Sustainability Structured Discussions (TESSD), and the moderator of the panel was Sarah Stewart, Executive Director, Silverado Policy Accelerator, and former Deputy Assistant USTR, Environment and Natural Resources.

The third panel of the conference was an armchair discussion between Angela Ellard, Deputy Director General of the WTO and Ambassador Rufus Yerxa, the former Deputy United States Trade Representative, and former Deputy Director General of the WTO. The discussion focused on the WTO today and its future goals.

Ellard discussed how working at the WTO is rather similar to working on the Hill, in that there are very diverse interests that you are advising and bringing together. Ellard highlighted the the negotiation aspect of how the WTO addresses fish subsidies. She also touched on how the WTO needs to deal with special and preferential treatment of other countries. 

When asked by Rufus Yerxa about a future reform agenda and elaborating on the future of the WTO, Ellard responded that the three pillars of the WTO (dispute settlements, moderating, and ​​negotiating) should be focused on. Overall, Ellard remains optimistic about the progress of the WTO in the topics of the environment, gender and more with the new initiatives coming out of the WTO.

The fourth panel focused on U.S.-China Strategic and Trade Relations and included the following panelists: Amy P. Celico, Principal Albright Stonebridge Group | Dentons Global Advisors, and former Senior Director for China Affairs at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Wendy Cutler, Vice President, Asia Society Policy Institute, and former Acting Deputy United States Trade Representative, Bonnie Glaser, Director of the Asia Program, German Marshall Fund of the United States, Samm Sacks, Senior Fellow, Yale Law School Paul Tsai China Center & New America, and moderator Erin Ennis, Vice President, Global Public Policy, Dell Technologies. 

The panelists shared their thoughts on how trade fits into the overall U.S.-China relationship. From joining the WTO until the present, China has significantly increased its dominance in global trade, economic, and financial markets and has now become a credible threat to U.S. hegemony due to large economic pressure. Throughout the discussion, the panelists brought up ideas about how technology and other factors have impacted trade with China. 

Amy Celico put forward the idea that many listeners to the panel are going to assume that the U.S. and China are going to expand restrictive actions that are going to limit the extension of the economic relationship this year. Other panelists agreed and suggested that the U.S. needs to look beyond the narrow limbs of the enforcement mechanism with how the administration is going to respond. 

The participants of the discussion remained hopeful that the U.S. and China could come up with trade agreements at some point, but it will take a lot to get there. They discussed how important it will be for the U.S. and China to participate in bilateral trade negotiations, and the need to reduce or eliminate tariffs completely by stressing where trade and investment flows are beneficial for both economies. Overall, the panel remained interesting because of the different suggestions and predictions that the panelists posed, regarding trade with China.

The first day of the conference ended with an Ambassadors Roundtable, featuring Ambassador Kirsten Hillman, the Canadian Ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Tomita Koji, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Stavros Lambrinidis, the European Union Ambassador to the United States, and moderator Ambassador Susan Schwab, Strategic Advisor, Mayer Brown LLP; and former United States Trade Representative. 

The ambassadors shed light on the trade landscape from their perspectives and offered insight into what is important in their countries in dealing with the U.S. and other trading partners. The discussion later touched on Canada and the United States having a very healthy relationship right now stating that covid has put a spotlight on strengths and vulnerabilities despite the United States not being involved in the CPTPP.

Panel six kicked off Day 2 of the WITC by building on previous discussions and having a more in-depth conversation about Strengthening the U.S. Economy and American Jobs through Trade from a broader group of perspectives. Many of the panelists highlighted the importance of the need to have import policies that encourage high living standards, exploring the digital area in healthcare and education sectors, and working with industry and suppliers and foreign partners to build out a resilient supply chain. 

The digital divide between certain groups throughout the United States was a theme of the discussion that made viewers think about how important it is to get these communities on track. Since the internet is evolving, the digital area has tremendous opportunities in exporting services such as healthcare and education. The overarching theme, that most responses reverted back towards, was whether or not we are training for jobs for the future and how we link that training to jobs. The panelists featured were Orit Frenkel, American Leadership Institute, Ed Gresser, Progressive Policy Institute, Jeffrey Kucik, University of Arizona, Chad Thompson, GM, and moderator Sarah Thorn, Walmart.

The next panel looked at Solving Supply Chain Disruptions. The panel opened with the notion that consumer demand is at the heart of supply chain issues. Following that, some of the speakers brought up issues related to infrastructure, legal processes, and price increases as major issues everyone should be focusing on.

Maria Zieba highlighted that the U.S. is still facing trade retaliation from China, and pays an effective 37% duty to China. Although many issues were discussed, panelists mentioned that the pandemic has created a new appreciation of the complicated global machinery to deliver goods for a lot of people. The panelists featured were: Jon Gold, National Retail Federation, Phil Levy, Flexport, Penny Naas, UPS, Maria Zieba, National Pork Producers Council, and Moderator Ana Swanson, New York Times.

The closing session of the 2022 Washington International Trade Conference featured Ambassador Sarah Bianchi, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative who offered her insight into the contours of trade policy in 2021. She emphasized that the United States is trying to create an important and stable relationship with China, but that the U.S. is in a difficult stage of that relationship. “It is really clear that they have not met their commitment in phase one,” Bianchi proclaims, which became the most well known statement of the conference.