The Foreign Service Journal, September 2018

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | SEPTEMBER 2018 59 Five Things I’ve Learned BY MATTHEW HILGENDORF, FCS ALTERNATE REPRESENTATIVE Companies depend on us to evaluate commercial environments and call “fouls” when we see them. Many of you watched the World Cup in July from the various time zones in which you found yourselves. It was an exciting three weeks of surprise victories by small teams, shocking early exits by traditionally strong teams and the use of a new video review system called the Video Assisted Referee that allows referees to consult a replay in real time to award fouls and penalties. There is no shortage of good sports writing describ- ing the passion and excite- ment of this sporting event. I particularly enjoy the format that starts: “Five things we learned …” As in: “Five things we learned about Belgium in its victory over Japan.” In that spirit I offer you five things that I’ve learned about the Commercial Service as your AFSA representative. We are small but mighty. With a budget of just over $300 million and approxi- mately 1,500 people, we are a small agency by any standard. But our footprint is immense—we cover the world and all 50 states with our foreign and domestic fields. We call on Locally Employed staff to support us in far-flung foreign markets, and we rely on domestic trade special- ists across the United States and headquarters staff in the nerve center located in the monolithic Department of Commerce building at 1401 Constitution Ave. Our team brings specialized export counseling to more than 33,000 companies each year. We are relevant— mostly. Trade promotion remains important, despite increased attention to protecting U.S. industries through tariffs and restrictions on imports. How- ever, our story does not grab the headlines, so we need to work extra hard to continue to demonstrate our value to the U.S. economy in an environment where domestic remedies are being used as a tool for job retention and creation. Offense is the best defense. Despite the current focus on protecting U.S. industry from imports, there is simply no getting away from the reality that U.S. companies need to export to survive. Exporters pay higher wages on average than non-export- ing companies, and benefit the economy by bringing in revenue from outside the country. Exporters are the goal scorers in the national economy, and we in the Commercial Service are their coaches and trainers. Here’s a real-world exam- ple. During a recent Senate hearing on trade policy, Views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the AFSA FCS VP. Contact: , | (202) 623-3821 FCS VP VOICE | BY MATTHEW HILGENDORF AFSA NEWS Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) invited the Secretary of Commerce to contact one of his constituent companies to hear firsthand the nega- tive effects of steel tariffs on his business. As a manufac- turer of components for the export market, this company was being crippled by the increase in the cost of steel inputs. It turned out that the company was a long-stand- ing client of the Commercial Service; their representa- tives had just returned from Ukraine, where they enjoyed our support at a tradeshow. This company wants to play offense, but it can’t play offense if the country is play- ing defense. We either grow or shrink. The 2018 budget for the Commercial Service appears to be in line with previous years. Unfortunately, a flat budget is, in real terms, a reduction in a time of ris- ing fixed costs. That is why AFSA FCS Vice President Dan Crocker and I have been talking to congressional appropriators about increas- ing the budget by $50 million to grow our presence and allow us to assist more U.S. businesses, particularly in developing markets in Africa and Asia. We are the VAR. Just as last summer’s World Cup teams benefit- ted from the Video Assisted Referee, companies depend on us to evaluate commercial environments and call “fouls” when we see them, whether in the form of non-tariff bar- riers, corruption or unfair competition. We have the resources and the expertise to make these judgment calls, and every time we do this we level the playing field just a little more. No one else in the public or private sector is so keenly focused on this func- tion and staffed to perform it. As I leave the AFSA FCS representative position to head out on a new assign- ment, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with FCS VP Dan Crocker to fight for the interests of the FCS officer corps on the Hill, at headquarters and within the AFSA Governing Board. Matthew Hilgendorf is leaving the AFSA Governing Board to move on to his new posting in Rome. We thank him for his service and wish him well in Rome. n