COVER STORY - International Trade amid High Unpredictability


A team of business executives and AmCham staff travel to Washington, D.C. for the annual “Doorknock” advocacy trip to meet with U.S. officials on Capitol Hill. Despite years of engagement with policymakers, topics for discussion are anything but routine this year

By Tara Joseph

2017 Washington Doorknock delegates (from left): Walter Dias, Managing Director (Greater China & Korea) at United Airlines and AmCham Chairman; Mark Green, Executive Vice President (Global Supply Chain) at PVH and AmCham Governor; Steven Chan, Managing Director & Regional Head of Regulatory, Industry and Government Affairs (Asia Pacific) at State Street Bank & Trust Co and AmCham Financial Services Committee Chair; Tara Joseph, AmCham President; Jack Lange, Partner at Paul Weiss and AmCham Vice Chairman; Ivan Strunin, Managing Director (US Tax Services) at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu and AmCham Taxation Committee Chair; Joseph McGowan, Senior Vice President (Global Supply Chain) at PVH; Peter Levesque, Group Managing Director & CEO at Modern Terminals and former AmCham Chairman (2014 & 2015)

Policy advocates in Washington are feeling the impact of a new and unconventional administration. Our group of eight senior executives representing the key business sectors of finance, law, transport, logistics and apparel in Hong Kong was recently in the U.S. capital city for AmCham’s annual “Doorknock” advocacy trip.

The mission was to gauge how policies toward Asia are shaping up, engage U.S. policymakers on behalf of AmCham members as well as the business community of Hong Kong, and voice our views for urgent engagement on trade policy in Asia after the demise of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), in more than 30 separate meetings within three days.

The Doorknock also coincided with the lead-up to Hong Kong’s 20th anniversary as a Special Administrative Region of China. Delegates discussed Hong Kong’s vital strategic role as a commercial hub for U.S. businesses, emphasizing on the understanding of what doing business in Hong Kong under the “One Country, Two Systems” means for foreign commercial entities.

Nearly 20 percent of all foreign companies with regional headquarters in Hong Kong are American, thanks to Hong Kong’s internationally respected judicial system and established financial market. In our meetings, many U.S. legislators and policy experts were keen to learn about the challenges facing Hong Kong in striving for democratic freedom, especially following a few high-profile recent events.

AmCham also held a symposium at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) along with the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office to raise awareness of where Hong Kong is headed and the challenges it may face. U.S. Consul General for Hong Kong and Macau Kurt Tong delivered a keynote speech in which he noted the risk of Hong Kong allowing itself to feel powerless.

Hong Kong is the ninth largest trading partner of the United States in terms of total U.S. export value for goods. It is one of the few territories where the U.S. operates a significant trade surplus, with imports of American products to Hong Kong, ranging from Nebraskan beef and Californian wines to products of advanced technology.

Importantly, our delegation delivered our advocacy message across Capitol Hill, asking Congress to support a visa waiver program for Hong Kong SAR passport holders visiting the United States. The measure could smooth the way for over 100,000 Hong Kong visitors a year, further increasing collaboration and exchange between the United States and Hong Kong on cultural and business ties.

Engagement in Asia

This year, our delegation to Washington had a particularly timely mission – it was to articulate the importance of U.S. engagement across Asia, particularly on international trade following the demise of TPP, a shifting U.S. policy which prioritizes domestic affairs over global engagement, and budget cuts in the State Department in relation to this region.

The consensus in Washington that the Trump administration is geared towards bilateral trade negotiations rather than multilateral agreements is a major concern because of the uncertain timeframe such agreements would take to complete. If a vacuum, or partial vacuum is created, the U.S. could lose both market share and influence.

Overall, our dialogue with U.S. senators, congressmen and experts on foreign affairs has highlighted that the administration is attempting a shift in trade policies based on the promise of creating three million jobs in the domestic market and linking economic policy to issues of national security.

AmCham supports a proactive response to new regional initiatives such as infrastructure development under China’s “Belt & Road” and the development of the Hong Kong-Guangdong-Macau Greater Bay Area. But it is equally important to maintain an active voice in supporting increased trade and investment, government engagement, and the export of U.S. commercial expertise and standards.

When American companies are heavily engaged across the Asia Pacific region which today accounts for 60 percent of the global economy, we simply can’t afford to be complacent, especially at a time when unpredictability prevails.

The good news is that there is a growing appreciation of the importance of Asia in global commerce, and our Chamber will play a critical role for the establishment of the highest standards in regional and global trade practices.