From Recommendations to Law: AAD Success on Commercial Diplomacy

This month, a law improving the practice of commercial diplomacy passed with the help and concrete input on ideas and language provided by the Academy.

The “Championing American Business Through Diplomacy Act of 2019” is a part of the 2020 omnibus appropriations bill and it offers a notable step forward in prioritizing commercial diplomacy and improving inter-agency cooperation, Foreign Service training and private-public engagement on the issue.

The Academy has been advocating for these ideas for years. As for this specific bill, extensive expertise, passion for the subject and sustained effort by a group of several dedicated Academy members are key reasons for this win. Even so, this achievement did not happen overnight.

The project began with two reports on Support for American Jobs, which were co-written by Charles Ford and Shaun Donnelly and funded by the Una Chapman Cox Foundation. Unfortunately, the completion of the second report in 2016 coincided with major changes in U.S. trade policy, which posed difficulties for follow-up and implementation of many key proposals despite repeated efforts by Academy members and leadership.

Then in 2019, the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill mandating a number of changes in how State and Commerce Departments operate (HR 1704). The bill was good as far as it went, but a group of Academy members saw an opportunity to improve it with measures recommended in the two earlier reports. They reached out to the staff of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who encouraged them to work with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in order to incorporate AAD’s ideas and urge passage.

This new effort lasted several months. Chuck Cobb was particularly diligent in encouraging AAD to pursue the issue. Shaun Donnelly, Tony Wayne, Lorne Craner, Mike Van Dusen and Ron Neumann were involved in numerous meetings. Charlie Rivkin also played an invaluable role in getting critical information.

The legislation finally made it into law due to hard pressure from Representative McCaul and the House Foreign Affairs Committee. It is an important advance.

According to Chuck Cobb, the Act’s most important achievements are as follows:

  1. Increasing the importance of U.S. commercial diplomacy throughout the government by making it one of the highest priorities of all ambassadors and other government officials;
  2. Creating an inter-agency process for commercial priorities led by the secretary of state;
  3. Creating a monitoring process by the controller general (Section 711) to make sure every administration makes commercial diplomacy a high priority;
  4. Creating better training in commercial advocacy at FSI; and
  5. Insisting on better coordination and consultation with the business community (Sections 708, 709).

Points 2 and 5 both showed changes that tracked directly with the language proposed by AAD. Both HFAC and SFRC staff thanked AAD for helping and Senate staff particularly credited the Academy’s efforts in raising the level of coordination for State-Commerce collaboration.

The law mandates increased training in commercial diplomacy. Implementation of this idea presents a new direction for potential future impact by the Academy and its members. AAD is consulting with Hill staff and the Foreign Service Institute to see if our members can be helpful in that effort.

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