The Foreign Service Journal, September 2020

70 SEPTEMBER 2020 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL You Can’t Really Ever Go Back, Only Forward… Last November, I wrote about the upcoming 40th anniversary of the Commer- cial Service. This important milestone, however, is really about the modern U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service that we know today. Our roots actually stretch back to the early 1900s. Trade specialists at U.S. Export Assistance Centers and our forebears at embassies and consulates overseas have been helping U.S. companies compete and win in foreign markets for more than 100 years. In July, however, a bill to abolish the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service was introduced in the House of Representatives. The aim of the legislation is to move both the foreign and domestic parts of US&FCS from the Commerce Department to the State Department. The legislation’s unam- biguous language “to abolish” was surprising; but that is, in effect, exactly what would happen if US&FCS were absorbed by the Bureau of Economic Affairs, which seems to be the thinking. That bureau, itself, is nearly six times the size of US&FCS. Any merger, no matter how balanced or seemingly logical, is difficult. Unantici- pated problems always come up, and opportunity costs are a real thing. These and other issues need to be thought through carefully and delib- erately. There’s not enough space here to offer a comprehen- sive review of this proposed merger, but I think it’s important to highlight why US&FCS and its forerun- ners have been rooted in the Commerce Department and not the State Department. For the past 40 years, US&FCS has had a tightly focused mission. We help U.S. companies (especially small- and medium-sized enterprises, or SMEs) export to foreign markets, and we work to attract job-creating foreign direct investment into the United States. Our Foreign Commercial Service officers and locally employed staff abroad help thousands of companies each year gain access to new markets for their products and services. With offices in more than 75 countries, we cover territory that accounts for 95 percent of global GDP and 97 percent of all export markets for U.S. goods. In the past three years, US&FCS has assisted more than 77,000 U.S. export- ers (more than 90 percent of them SMEs), facilitated $296 billion in U.S. exports and inward foreign direct investment, supported 1.3 million American jobs and returned more than $300 to the U.S. economy for every $1 appropriated to the agency. Thanks to a metrics- driven culture, these numbers are verified and submitted to the Office of Management and Budget on an annual basis. The figures more than justify our mis- sion and truly represent out- sized value for the American taxpayer. One real danger of a merger would be confusion in the business community. Abolishing US&FCS and moving its functions to the State Department would push U.S. businesses into an agency traditionally focused on foreign policy and not necessarily trade. The fact that the vast majority of the more than 1,500 economic-coned officers are not serving in economic positions overseas seems to demonstrate that trade is not a core priority of the State Department. The business community knows US&FCS well, and it knows the value the Commercial Service provides. In fact, the number-one complaint we hear from the business community and even our chiefs of mission abroad is that there aren’t enough Foreign Commercial Service officers. They want more! Not fewer. The functions of a State Department economic offi- cer and Commerce Depart- ment commercial officer are different but complemen- tary. We often work together, but tackle problems from different angles. At a very basic level, commercial officers will get a company into a market, kick down barriers and help establish partnerships on the ground. Economic officers will work the longer view of economic liberaliza- tion in those markets and push for high-level policy changes. It’s a relationship that works on different levels but works well. So, what will the future of trade promotion look like, notwithstanding this proposed legislation? That’s a great question, and I think it’s a conversation worth having. There’s always room for improvement. But whichever direction we go in, let’s be sure to think it through. Above all, let’s make sure our main stakeholder, the U.S. busi- ness community, is part of the conversation. n FCS VP VOICE | BY JAY CARREIRO AFSA NEWS Contact: Abolishing US&FCS and moving its functions to the State Department would push U.S. businesses into an agency traditionally focused on foreign policy and not necessarily trade.