Pilot Program Will Target Digital Trade Barriers

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By Joseph Wright

March 16 — U.S. businesses operating online overseas will have additional support available through the U.S. Department of Commerce's newly announced digital attaché program.

The pilot program is a partnership of the International Trade Administration's diplomatic corps and the National Telecommunications & Information Administration. NTIA is providing the technical expertise for training corps members in six targeted markets over the next two to three months, Judy Rising Reinke, deputy director general of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service, told Bloomberg BNA March 16.

“The digital economy is changing a lot of the considerations of how companies succeed,” Reinke said. Just as companies must evolve to meet new challenges, the digital attaché program is the trade agency's effort at “increasing the digital fluency of the officers,” she said.

The initial program will train a point person in each of six markets— China, India, Japan, Brazil, the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations—where the agency believes U.S. companies can succeed in the digital economy as long as trade barriers aren't too high, Reinke said. The EU attaché will be located in Brussels and the ASEAN attaché will be located in Singapore.

Digital ‘Point Person'

All of the new attachés have some experience with digital economy issues, Reinke said, but they will receive additional training from subject matter experts. Much of the trade agency's diplomatic corps has more experience in traditional brick-and-mortar goods and offline services, she said, so the pilot program is designed to create a “point person” for digital issues in key markets.

Reinke said the program is an extension of work the trade agency's diplomatic corps already does on behalf of U.S. companies seeking to overcome trade barriers. She cited recent work the corps performed on behalf of Virginia-based cloud software service provider Opower, which was attempting to enter the U.K. smart utilities market.

The U.K.'s Smart Grid program included rules that likely weren't intended to be trade barriers but which functionally shut Opower out of the market. The London office of the trade diplomatic corps engaged with regulators in the U.K. government, Reinke said, and successfully pushed for a revised recommendation that allowed Opower to compete.

In addition to easing trade barriers for U.S. companies overseas, Reinke said the program is intended to teach small and medium-sized companies how to enter international markets. The attachés will do “a lot of educating on how to take a company global through digital channels,” Reinke said.

The education portion of the attachés' mission is an extension of the Commerce Department's startup venture, the eCommerce Innovation Lab, located within the San Jose U.S. Export Assistance Center in San Jose, Calif.

The attachés will have engagement metrics, and their impact on overcoming trade barriers will receive a formal assessment after six months, Reinke said.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker announced the digital attaché program March 11.

To contact the reporter on this story: Joseph Wright in Washington at jwright@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Alexis Kramer at akramer@bna.com

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