Remarks by Under Secretary Lago - February 14, 2023

Washington, DC
February 14, 2023

As Prepared for Delivery

Good morning, and thank you to WITA for having me here today. 

The more than 2,200 members of the Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration work every day on building a more prosperous, inclusive and secure economy.  We’re strengthening communities and enhancing our economic resilience by bolstering the competitiveness of U.S. industry and workers.  We do this by promoting exports, facilitating investment and ensuring fair trade practices.  Equity lies at the core of our efforts—serving all businesses regardless of size, and expanding opportunity to ensure that the benefits of trade reach more broadly across our communities. 

Our work is grounded in the conviction that economic security is a key element of our national security.  Between the economic fallout of COVID-19, Russia’s unjustifiable war against Ukraine and strategic competition with the People’s Republic of China, the imperative to bolster economic security has only grown.

Our economic security depends on our nation’s competitiveness on the global stage, which begins with safeguarding our strength and resilience at home. 

The Biden-Harris Administration has made historic investments in our nation’s competitiveness—over one trillion dollars through landmark new legislation.  These investments are equipping our nation, businesses and workers to compete and win in the 21st Century global economy.  

ITA supports U.S. companies doing business in foreign markets, which are home to over 95 percent of the world’s consumers.  The data are clear: businesses that export generally earn higher revenues, create more jobs, and pay better wages.  

But the power of trade extends beyond our export flows.  From encouraging the development and adoption of high-quality, industry-informed technical standards, to advocating for fair wages globally, to setting the rules of the road for next generation technologies, trade is a lever to advance our national interests—and this Administration takes an expansive view of the power and promise that trade offers.  While the current environment may not be conducive to signing traditional trade agreements, make no mistake—we’re making breakthroughs in creating commercial opportunities on behalf of U.S. businesses and workers, all the while strengthening our role in the world.  

We’re deepening trade ties with like-minded nations to ensure resilience, counter coercive influences and protect our national security.  We’re launching new commercial and investment frameworks in fast-growing regions.  We’re eliminating barriers and fostering cooperation in essential commercial areas—from digital trade to technical standards.  We’re embracing leadership of international institutions—including putting forward ITA’s own Ian Saunders as the U.S. Candidate for Secretary General of the World Customs Organization.  We’re promoting investment into the United States so that more cutting-edge products continue to be made in America.  And, since not all countries or companies play by the rules, we’re ensuring that what is made elsewhere on the globe is traded fairly in the United States.  

Let me get a bit more specific.  I’ll start by giving you an overview of our activities across the globe.  I’ll then describe some sectors of the economy that are of particular interest.  And I’ll end by providing some insights into how we implement our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility. 

In the Western Hemisphere, we’re leaning into longstanding engagements, having restarted the High-Level Economic Dialogue with Mexico and hosted the 20th U.S.-Brazil Commercial Dialogue.  Through these and other partnerships, we’re improving the business environment in our own hemisphere—removing barriers to commerce and creating new opportunities for American businesses to build resilience. 

In Europe, we’re deepening our solidarity in response to Russia’s war of aggression—helping allies meet near-term energy needs and plan for long-term energy security, as well as already preparing to support Ukraine’s reconstruction.  We’re also tackling next-generation challenges through the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council, which works to align Transatlantic approaches to export controls, secure supply chains, data governance and investment screening.

In Africa, we’re growing economic engagement, grounded in mutual respect and shared interests.  Two days ago, I returned from Tanzania and Zambia, where I saw firsthand the tremendous promise that African markets hold for U.S. businesses.  Capitalizing on the momentum of December’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit and Business Forum, my foreign government counterparts and I worked on converting promising dialogues into robust commercial relationships.  

I’ll end my tour of the globe by noting that we’re working to ensure a free, open, interconnected Indo-Pacific and prepare for next-generation challenges.  With 60 percent of the world’s population, this region is projected to be the largest contributor to global growth over the next 30 years—which is why it’s crucial that we deepen our partnerships there.  

This includes building consensus around shared priorities during 2023, when the United States is hosting Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).  It also includes pursuing fruitful bilateral engagements—from the U.S.-Singapore Partnership for Growth and Innovation to the U.S.-Japan Economic Policy Consultative Committee.

And, of course, we’re breaking new ground with the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF).

Let me talk a bit more about IPEF, as it’s a cornerstone of the Administration’s efforts to reassert U.S. economic leadership and engagement in this dynamic region. We’ve joined with 13 partner countries with the goal of increasing shared prosperity, shaping technological innovation and tackling economic challenges, while boosting trade and investment.  This engagement will yield benefits for partner nations and for U.S. businesses, workers and families—and we’re determined that these benefits be broadly and equitably shared. 

The Department of Commerce is leading three IPEF workstreams, First, we’re working to build supply chain resilience, mitigate disruptions and foster collective action in critical sectors, while supporting workforce development and labor rights.

Second, we’re capitalizing on the clean energy transition by helping to unlock the IPEF region’s abundant clean energy potential, and promoting low- and zero-emissions goods and services.

And third, we’re leveling the playing field for businesses and workers among IPEF nations by combatting corruption, strengthening tax administration and enhancing transparency.

IPEF promotes an affirmative, open vision for economic engagement.  But it’s impossible to discuss the future of the IPEF region without addressing the challenges posed by the People’s Republic of China—and ITA’s role in addressing them.

In half a century of relations, the U.S.-China relationship has become the world’s most consequential.  China is now our third largest export market, directly supporting 750,000 American jobs.  In turn, our private sector has helped shape China’s development.

Despite hopes that China would embrace political and economic reform and opening, President Xi and the Chinese Communist Party have taken the country down a different path—increasing the role of the state in society and the economy, constraining the free flow of capital and information, fusing economic and technology policies with military ambitions, and deploying coercive economic policies against both countries and non-Chinese companies. 

Secretary Raimondo and leadership across this Administration are clear-eyed about the challenges that China’s strategy poses for U.S. interests, and have adopted a multifaceted approach: invest, align and compete.  

This strategy will help ensure that the United States continues to lead the global economy in the 21st Century, fostering sustainable, equitable, inclusive growth, while advancing our values—openness, transparency, the rule of law.  We’re bolstering domestic competitiveness through transformational legislation.  We’re modernizing our approach to supply chain resiliency, export controls, and inbound and outbound investment.  We’re aligning with allies to advance a shared vision for the future.  And we’re competing with China—leaning into our nation’s dynamism to promote our values and lead to the global economy. 

ITA is advancing the Administration’s efforts through a balance of protecting and promoting U.S. interests.

At the core of ITA’s mission is strengthening the competitiveness of U.S. businesses and workers. Our team counsels companies, works to tackle China’s numerous trade barriers, and shares knowledge to support U.S. companies that are doing business in China.  In light of China’s turn away from reform, however, an increasing part of our work is helping U.S. businesses to build resilience—against geopolitical shocks, against economic coercion and against the buildup of heavily subsidized Chinese indigenous industries.  

Simultaneously, ITA is drawing on a wide array of economic tools to protect the broader U.S. economy.  To stand up to anti-competitive behavior, we’re enforcing a record number of anti-dumping and countervailing duty orders, and we’re counseling U.S. businesses that are suffering from unfair trade practices.   To protect the competitiveness of critical U.S. industries, we’re helping implement a stronger inbound investment review regime.  Simultaneously, we’re identifying the best approaches to prevent outbound U.S. investment flows from supporting foreign initiatives that undermine our security.

Investment review is particularly salient in strategic technology industries, where we’re working diligently to protect our unmatched innovation ecosystem—harnessing strong relationships with industry and other stakeholders to pursue effective action that minimizes unintended consequences.

Still, while we must always be vigilant to protect our U.S. economic and national security, China remains an important export market.  

Let me be clear—we do not seek to decouple from the Chinese economy.  As President Biden has emphasized, we’ll seek to work together to address global challenges and maintain a commercial relationship in line with U.S. values and objectives.  Our ITA Commercial Service team is on the ground in China working to promote trade and investment in target sectors like consumer goods, environment, pollution control and healthcare.  

But make no mistake, our promoting of U.S. commercial interests will not distract from our number one priority—protecting and advancing our economic and national security interests.  We’ll mitigate downside risk and insist on high standards and human rights—from supporting enforcement of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act to helping businesses safeguard their intellectual property.  

These same principles guide our engagement with other emerging markets.  We’re not asking countries to choose between the United States and the PRC.  Rather, we present a compelling alternative for principled partnership.  

Let me now turn to a few sectors that are front of mind for ITA.  First is supply chains.  Once a topic for policy wonks and logistics experts, during the pandemic supply chain issues became dinner table and board room conversation, as families and businesses grappled with bottlenecks, vulnerabilities and shortages.

Knowing that robust, resilient supply chains are central to our security and prosperity, the Biden Administration continues to take decisive action to alleviate issues in critical sectors—from medical devices to automobiles.  Did you know that it’s ITA’s analysis and industry engagement that underpins efforts to resolve shortages and delays?  Our team provides U.S. producers with information to understand their vulnerabilities and obtain what they need to compete.  

We’re building capabilities to proactively identify and reduce overreliance, especially on supply chains running through countries that don’t share our democratic ideals. We aim to anticipate and mitigate future challenges—to help ensure that the United States maintains secure and reliable access to the materials that are necessary to meet our needs, protect our security and lead the industries of the future.  Not surprisingly, we’ve put supply chains at the center of our international engagements. 

We’re also placing a special emphasis on promoting the export of cutting-edge clean energy and climate resiliency technologies. 

Since day one, the Administration has been committed to combatting the climate crisis—at home and abroad.

Russia’s illegal war against Ukraine heightens the imperative to accelerate the green transition—ensuring energy security and diversity of supply.  This is especially salient in Europe, where we’ve supported allies in obtaining new energy sources and infrastructure. 

To help address these twin crises, ITA is helping U.S. businesses bring to global markets technologies to speed the transition to net zero emissions.  In 2022 alone, we facilitated over $3 billion in clean tech exports.  At the same time, we work with foreign entities that are interested in investing in U.S. facilities.  Last year, we facilitated some $27 billion in clean tech investment into the United States—including an electric vehicle battery plant that will create thousands of jobs in Ohio.

The importance of this work extends well beyond its dollar value.  By leaning into our strength in innovation, we’re enabling other countries to pursue their Paris commitments and achieve energy independence. 

Good as we are, we know that the United States alone can’t solve the climate crisis.  International cooperation is crucial.  So that’s why we’ve made climate a focus of our global engagement.  This includes working through our Small Modular Reactor Public-Private Program to advance the commercial deployment of next-generation U.S. civil nuclear technology—accelerating the transition from coal-fired plants. 

Not surprisingly, another topic that’s on the agenda for many bilateral and multilateral engagements is the digital economy, and most especially ensuring robust cross-border data flows consistent with privacy and security needs.  We’re pursuing this work by implementing the U.S.-E.U. Data Privacy Framework and advancing a Global Cross-Border Privacy Rules System for interoperable data regimes.  

We’re also doing our part to protect partner nations from coercive influence—whether by encouraging the use of secure equipment in key telecommunications projects, boosting cybersecurity cooperation, or harnessing the potential of next-generation technologies. 

The final topic that I want to raise is one that lies at the heart of the Biden-Harris Administration: equity.  Ensuring that growth at home is equitable demands not only increasing exports, but also increasing the pool of exporters.

Equity is at the core of everything that we do at ITA, which is why we’re committed to supporting rural, minority-, veteran- and women-owned businesses.  Equally, we’re committed to serving micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), which comprise the vast majority of U.S. exporters and 85 percent of ITA’s clients. 

MSMEs and diverse businesses have unique advantages and huge potential for growth.  But these same businesses often face obstacles—lack of opportunity, inaccurate perception of risk, insufficient financing, and challenges identifying and vetting potential partners.

In over 100 cities and towns across the United States, ITA has trade specialists who help businesses overcome these obstacles and grow in global markets.  This entails revisiting our tools—which were developed for larger players—and retooling them to meet the needs of MSMEs.  

We’ve prioritized programming, support and outreach to minority- and women-owned businesses.  We’ve brought diverse U.S. businesses to the world.  It 2022, ITA led its first-ever minority-focused trade mission, following that with another first—a Women in Tech trade mission that I had the pleasure of leading.  We’re meeting MSMEs in their own communities as part of our Global Diversity Export Initiative (GDEI).  GDEI leverages leading national chambers of commerce and diverse business associations to ensure that our trade shows, missions and counseling services reach businesses in historically underserved communities.  This includes working through our Building Bridges to Global Markets program, which has brought no-cost, in-person expertise and resources to hundreds of businesses in communities from Jackson, Mississippi to Cleveland, Ohio.  

These initiatives are just the start.  We’re doubling down in 2023: implementing a Women’s Economic Empowerment and Entrepreneurship Strategy, leading dedicated minority-focused trade missions to Brazil and Africa, promoting destinations in underserved communities as part of our National Travel and Tourism Strategy, tapping the potential of diaspora communities in building export relationships, and putting a spotlight on MSMEs as part of our APEC host year.  

In my first year in this role, I’ve been in 18 countries and several states in the U.S.  While abroad, I’ve encountered a consistent hunger for U.S. engagement and solutions.  Here at home, I see a desire to strengthen businesses—and communities—through growth in global markets. 

At ITA, we’re making major strides to address these mutually reinforcing demands, and our approach is well-calibrated to a dynamic, interconnected global economic landscape. 

I’m proud to serve in an Administration that is deploying a wide range of commercial and trade tools to advance our economic and national security, enhance the competitiveness of U.S. businesses and workers, and promote equitable and sustainable growth in an open global system. 

Thank you, and I look forward to our conversation.