Saturday, September 20, 2014

Tweeting the 21st Century

I watched a batch of Charlie Chaplin movies a few weeks ago at the American Film Institute which was celebrating the 100th anniversary of the tramp’s first moving pictures.  One of those movies – although not quite a century old – was Modern Times.

Here’s another short story – nonfiction – about 21st Century modern times.

Last week in what was a very slow trade news day in Washington, I covered a “soft” presentation at the US German Marshall Fund about its latest report on how much Europeans love Americans – and vice versa.   I went in hopes of gathering an inkling of news about the US-European Union TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations.
Over my many years of reporting on trade, I have learned to sleep at boring presentations, but always with one ear open for key words.
During an otherwise stock presentation by new Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland -- who recently was the department’s chef press flak -- she made  mention of three chief objectives in US-European relations, which included TTIP.  She noted the importance of completing the TTIP negotiations and getting it into working order as a top US priority for the United States.
I woke up.
The second point was the need to shore up a secure and independent European energy market – especially in the aftermath of Russia’s activities in Ukraine.
But now fully awake, what really got my attention was the third priority – “rooting out the cancer of corruption that is eating away at our livelihoods and our democracy and our security in too many parts of our own states.”  (Quote is not from memory, but from my own high-technology Sony recorder.)
Whoa!  What did she say?  Since when is corruption in Europe a priority for this country?
Interesting, but still not a trade story, so I didn’t pursue it with the speaker.
But afterwards, I spoke to some attendees lingering around after the presentation.  Saying that I am getting old and was afraid I am losing my hearing, I asked one European journalist friend what he made of Ms. Nuland’s corruption comment.   He admitted that he heard nothing about corruption or even TTIP in the speech.
I then asked a European Union official based in Washington.  His answer was that he also did not hear anything around corruption.  The then quickly admitted that he was fooling around with his smart phone.
I turned to a nearby student-age attendee.  He said he heard the reference to corruption in the speech, but did not know what the speaker was referring to.
A 21st Century (Modern Times) lesson.  Don’t count on people listening to you even if they are in the same room and only a few feet away – which could be a big boon for policymakers who participate in public sessions.
Perhaps the best way to get points across in the 21st century – truly – is to tweet your message across the ethersphere in 140 characters or less.

What?  What did he say?    WAKE UP.

Jim Berger

Thursday, September 4, 2014


What is old is often new again.  

Occasionally, WTD delves into its back issues to see what is old in trade news and what continues to return – often to badger new trade officials today.

Here’s some top articles from WTD a decade ago – September 6 through 10, 2004.

The first week of September is always a slow one – with Administration officials and members of Congress getting back from a month-long August recess.  But on September 6, 2004, WTD reported that ranking Commerce Department officials were working hard to ease a rapidly emerging crisis with China over an expected onslaught of textile imports.  Commerce Undersecretary for International Trade Grant Aldonas in the George W. Bush Administration was attempting to ease concerns of US textile producers who were threatening to file a slew of special China safeguard petitions.
Commerce was working on “guidelines” for petition reviewers in the department.  Later in the week Mr. Aldonas jetted off to Beijing to press for a comprehensive textile agreement.
Neither an agreement nor the filings ever came to fruition.

In Geneva, the United States said it intended to challenge a recent World Trade Organization dispute settlement panel verdict against an array of domestic and export subsidies programs for US growers of upland cotton.
Sound familiar?
The panel demanded that the United States immediately remove the subsidies.  There were some tweaks in the US farm law during its latest iteration last year.  But Brazil is still not happy and continues to threaten a WTO compliance case in which it considers essentially the same subsidies.

And US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said the Bush Administration was eyeing free trade agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Oman.  The US-Oman FTA became a reality; but nothing emerged for the largest market in the region.

Finally, at the end of the week, the Bush White House rejected a second attempt in less than six months to bring a Section 301 unfair trade practices action against China for intentionally manipulating the renmimbi to promote its exports and block imports.  The petition was filed by the newly formed China Currency Coalition on Thursday morning and rejected in the afternoon.
The current saga continues, with every Administration since steadfastly rejecting similar calls for action to address the currency/trade issue.

Jim Berger