Under Secretary Marisa Lago Remarks - March 23, 2022
Remarks by Under Secretary Marisa Lago at Meridian International Center
March 23, 2022
As Prepared for Delivery
Thank you, Erin, for the kind introduction, and to Puru Trivedi for convening this program. My thanks as well to my friend—and predecessor as ITA Under Secretary—Francisco Sanchez for moderating today’s discussion.
I have long been an admirer of the Meridian Center as an organization that values international engagement. It is only fitting that within my first 100 days in my new role I join you to share my priorities for the International Trade Administration—and, just as importantly, hear and learn from your perspectives.
The timing is propitious as well. I recently returned from the United Arab Emirates, where I participated in the largest ever Trade Winds, which is the Department of Commerce’s premier annual trade mission and business forum. As we continue to operate in a challenging environment shaped by the pandemic, it was heartening to see so many U.S. businesses—small and large—building ties with foreign private sector and government partners.
It is my honor to advocate on behalf of American businesses, American workers, and the American people as ITA strives to improve U.S. economic competitiveness and advance the Biden-Harris Administration’s priorities.
This includes affirming that the United States is fully committed to reengaging our partners and deepening our economic relationships around the world. I depart next week for Turkey and Croatia where, in addition to engaging on commercial and policy matters, I will commemorate the tragic plane crash in which Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown and 34 others perished, including 33 Americans who served at the Department of Commerce, CIA, Treasury and U.S. Air Force, in addition to a New York Times correspondent, several private sector executives and two Croatians—an interpreter and a photographer.
Then President Clinton described this trade mission to the Balkans as one of “peace and hope” to “help to restore a broken land.” Now, 26 years later, our U.S. Government team will again visit a Europe shaken by war, but yearning for the promise of prosperity and economic security.
Responding to Russia’s horrific and unjustified invasion permeates our work. Beyond successfully evacuating our country team, including all locally employed staff—who provided exceptional service under impossible conditions—ITA is working hand in glove with Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security providing crucial industry by industry analysis to assure that our import bans and export controls effectively deprive the Russian government of the tools it needs to wage war.
The specter of Russian aggression on Europe’s flank also demands that we reexamine and redouble our engagement in the region—whether addressing supply chain and energy challenges or orienting our resources to support partners and allies who offer an alternate vision to Putin’s belligerence.
The war in Ukraine—and the response to it—underscore what many here have long understood: economic security is foundational to our national security.
Our security depends on our competitiveness, which starts at home. The Biden-Harris Administration is driving crucial domestic investments that will allow us to compete and win globally. But strengthening competitiveness also means ensuring fair and open markets, expanding export opportunities, and doubling down on investments into the United States.
Exports are essential to building a robust, dynamic and equitable economy. The data are clear: businesses that export earn higher revenues, create more jobs, pay better wages, and are less likely to go out of business. As more U.S. businesses look to foreign markets—where over 95% of the world’s consumers live—my priority is not only to grow exports, but also to expand the pool of exporters to include new and diverse businesses.
The importance of trade in today’s interconnected world extends beyond jobs and prosperity. Trade is a lever to advance economic and strategic priorities and keep our nation secure—whether forging closer ties with partners or advancing our values through high standards.
The pandemic underscored the relationship between economic and national security, especially as vulnerabilities emerged. Seemingly overnight, supply chains and semiconductors became dinner table conversation topics, as Americans grew more aware of the vital role of global commerce in their daily lives. I am heartened to know that my team is at the forefront of the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to ensure resilience, dependability and security in our critical supply chains. And I take comfort in the knowledge that our team is tackling other issues integral to our security, including helping to lay the foundation for America’s future climate resilience.
While I am new to this role, the policy frame is familiar. From my time in municipal and state planning and economic development roles to my federal service at the Securities and Exchange Commission and Department of the Treasury, I have worked to promote an affirmative economic agenda to create jobs, support U.S. workers and businesses, and pursue ambitious policy aims—including on climate, high quality standards, and equity. As Under Secretary, I will be a voice for U.S. businesses and workers, and partner closely with the private sector to pursue our policy agenda.
The backbone of our agenda is equity, a core priority for the Biden-Harris Administration, for the Department of Commerce, for Secretary Raimondo and for me personally. It is something about which I feel deeply, as my family’s first college graduate and someone who has too often been the only woman in the room—from college physics classes to multiparty negotiations.
Equity underpins everything that we do at ITA, as we reimagine how trade and commerce can serve all of America’s people. Equity is not just the right policy, a just policy—it also makes good economic and business sense.
It is essential to our economic dynamism and success: our economy cannot reach its full potential unless economic opportunity is fully shared. We have a duty to ensure that the benefits of trade are broadly felt, and this means expanding opportunity for those who have too long been underserved, including rural communities, historically underserved communities, and minority- and women-owned businesses.
I was delighted to see the strides that ITA is already making in this area at Trade Winds, where 28 minority-owned and 23 women-owned businesses participated—businesses like Grain Free Mama’s, a women-owned Nevada food mix business that made new connections to allow it to confidently export to the Middle East and North Africa.
Alongside Trade Winds, I was also thrilled to participate in our inaugural women’s empowerment summit, which connected entrepreneurs and businesswomen across the Middle East and Africa with those in the United States, many of whom participated in the Trade Winds mission. There I met some immensely impressive women, like Rosana Ellis, the COO of PhDSoft Technology, a predictive analytics firm, who found her experience so productive that she signed up on the spot for our first ever minority business trade mission, which will occur in May. I also met Tonya McNeal-Weary, an international business consultant who not only participated in our summit but also led eight other women entrepreneurs to Egypt, and Jill Coleman, CEO of Jamerson Strategic Consulting, a small, woman-owned, Black-owned business, who reported that Trade Winds changed the trajectory of her consultancy’s international expansion. Each of these dynamic, minority women came away from our program with new tools and relationships to grow their businesses—and thus jobs for American workers.
Looking ahead, our forthcoming National Export Strategy is being drafted with an equity lens to ensure that trade promotion programs and strategies are designed, deployed and targeted to companies in communities that have been historically underserved. This includes helping those businesses to access the knowledge, tools and resources that they need to unleash their exporting potential.
This work is already underway, including through our Global Diversity Export Initiative, which directs trade resources and international opportunities to underserved communities, and ITA’s Rural Export Center, which leverages our U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service presence to help rural businesses identify promising international markets and partners. The Commercial Service’s deep local knowledge and diligent front-line work in over 100 U.S. cities and over 70 global markets is what moves the needle on U.S. commercial diplomacy and trade—meeting by meeting, deal by deal.
Their work will also be essential as we seek to expand export channels that support crucial global priorities, none of which is as urgent as climate.
As part of President Biden’s ambitious commitment to tackle the climate crisis at home and abroad, ITA is doing its part to reduce emissions and accelerate the clean technology transition.
We are developing a Clean Technology Export Competitiveness Strategy to strengthen our prospects in global markets—growing U.S. low-carbon sectors and exporting cutting edge climate technology while simultaneously creating good-paying jobs for American workers.
This is a huge opportunity for the U.S. private sector. During my bilateral meetings in the UAE, I heard repeatedly how eager the Emirati government and its sovereign wealth funds are to partner with and invest in our private sector to advance clean tech opportunities. And at Trade Winds, I saw how U.S. companies are capitalizing on this momentum—like Sujen International, a minority-owned wind turbine distributor from Alabama that made the trip seeking new market opportunities.
There is immense interest in U.S. private sector climate solutions, and the ITA team is eager to support competition for sales and low-carbon projects abroad. As part of that commitment, I am pleased to announce that in June I will be leading ITA’s clean tech trade mission to Indonesia and Vietnam.
Climate is also a crucial component of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). IPEF is the Administration’s strategy to deepen commercial ties and advance shared policy goals in partnership with some of the world’s most dynamic economies and fastest growing markets. In addition to a pillar devoted to infrastructure, clean energy and decarbonization, IPEF will also focus on supply chain resiliency, fair and resilient trade, and tax and anti-corruption.
The Indo-Pacific is also integral to Build Back Better World, or B3W. Launched by the Administration last summer, B3W aims to tackle immense unmet infrastructure needs in a way that promotes high standards and creates jobs at home. We look forward to collaborating closely with private sector and government partners in lower- and middle-income countries around the world to build a pipeline of transformational infrastructure projects to help tackle the climate crisis, health security challenges and the widening digital and gender divides. B3W projects will have high standards for quality, transparency and inclusion, and be supported by enabling commercial environments that create export opportunities for the U.S. private sector.
Leadership at Commerce have doubled down on efforts to reengage with the world, strengthening international commercial ties to bolster U.S. competitiveness—in trade and technology alike.
Multilateral engagement is at the heart of this work. Commerce has a key role in the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council, which promotes mutual competitiveness and prosperity grounded in our shared democratic, market-oriented values. ITA is also playing a role in fostering closer cooperation through the Quad, including tackling issues like climate, infrastructure, and critical and emerging technologies with our Australian, Indian, and Japanese partners. And we are deepening ties on the African continent through our High-Level Economic Dialogue with the African Union.
At the same time, ITA continues to nurture our valued bilateral relationships. This includes expanding and strengthening existing formats like the High-Level Economic Dialogue with Mexico, the U.S.-India Commercial Dialogue and CEO Forum, and the U.S.-Brazil CEO Forum, as well as shaping new opportunities, like the U.S.-Japan Commercial and Industrial Partnership.
Whether working bilaterally or multilaterally, ITA’s global engagement is laser focused on creating new opportunities for U.S. businesses and their workers, by not only expanding exports, but also by holding accountable those who seek unfair advantage.”
American businesses are sharpened rather than threatened by foreign competition, provided that there are fair rules. But our businesses should not have to compete against foreign governments and heavily subsidized businesses above and beyond the fierce competition of the market.
Through trade remedies and compliance monitoring, ITA’s Enforcement and Compliance team is working to safeguard American workers, farmers, and businesses from foreign practices that undermine free and fair trade—ensuring a level playing field, a healthy domestic market, and a well-functioning international trade system. And it will come as no surprise to you that our team is facing a record caseload volume.
As I hope you can tell, I am energized by the challenge and opportunity to build a more prosperous, inclusive and equitable economy by strengthening the competitiveness of U.S. businesses and workers, promoting trade and investment, and ensuring fair trade practices in other countries. And my colleagues and I look forward to partnering closely with you as we do so.
My thanks once again for the opportunity to share with you my priorities for ITA, and I look forward to our discussion. With that, I will hand it over to Francisco.