Viewpoint: Digital Trade, Economic Vitality & the President’s Export Council

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Earlier this week, IBM Chairman, President and CEO Ginni Rometty attended a meeting of the President’s Export Council. Christopher Padilla, head of the company’s Government and Regulatory Affairs team, offers a look back at the meeting, and the key roles that digital trade, competitiveness and skills development played in the discussion.

By Christopher A. Padilla, Vice President, IBM Government and Regulatory Affairs

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of accompanying Ginni Rometty, IBM’s Chairman, President and CEO, to a meeting of the President’s Export Council. As a member of the Council, Mrs. Rometty joined other private and public sector leaders in sharing perspectives on government policy that impacts U.S. trade performance. They touched on everything from export expansion to the global trade in data-driven services.

One of the key topics for today’s meeting was Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which would enhance U.S. economic competitiveness by facilitating new trade agreements to open vast new markets for our exports. The Senate has already passed TPA legislation, and the House is currently considering it.

In particular, Rometty emphasized the critical role of digital trade in the global economy, and how America’s future economic growth depends on the free movement of data across international borders. She explained that IBM – along with many other American companies – is pursuing growth in advanced technologies, from cloud computing and advanced analytics to mobile, social and enterprise security. These in-demand technologies are dependent on cross-border data flows, which she and other members of the council emphasized the importance of safeguarding through key provisions in TPA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a major trade agreement.

TPA was just one of the trade-related topics on which the Council conferred. During a panel discussion on 21st century competitiveness, members talked about the importance of data-driven innovation to driving U.S. economic growth. Mrs. Rometty cited IBM’s growth priorities as an example of how this innovation can lead to a stronger economy that creates exciting new career opportunities for American workers. Later, they emphasized the need for competitive tax policy so U.S. companies can compete effectively in global markets.

Finally, the Council deliberated on workforce development and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) skills, especially focusing on the importance of training our students in these areas to ensure America’s long-term economic vitality. Rometty highlighted the P-TECH program – an educational model that IBM established in partnership with New York City and the City University of New York that focuses curriculum on computer science – as a model for how to educate students in these vital areas. Just last week, the first six P-TECH students graduated with dual high-school and STEM-specific college-level degrees.

Overall, IBM is encouraged that President Obama and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman are placing a major emphasis on digital trade. With current trade negotiations having such significant implications for the future of the digital economy, we are calling on Congress to modernize U.S. trade policy for the 21st century by passing TPA and finalizing the TPP.

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