Ian Steff

Despite an ever-increasing international trade war that is replete with tit-for-tat tariffs between the U.S. and China, a senior official in the administration of President Donald Trump this week, will — perhaps — attempt to quell growing fears of many New Jerseyans and others caught in the burgeoning global import-export quagmire.

Ian Steff, an official with the Department of Commerce, will be the keynote speaker at the Princeton Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce Global Summit on Friday, September 13, at the DoubleTree Hotel in Monmouth Junction. Steff is the deputy assistant secretary for manufacturing at the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration. His talk is titled “How the New U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) Facilitates Global Business.” The cost is $60 for members and includes two keynote presentations, networking, breakfast, and exhibitor interactions. For more information, visit www.princetonmercerchamber.org or call 609-924-1776.

As a senior executive in the Trump administration since 2017, Steff oversees more than 1,400 trade professionals around the world. He also manages a $300 million budget and is often at the center of implementing and executing international trade tariffs and manufacturing regulations — with the USMCA being at the forefront of his current initiatives. “The administration is working to eliminate even more barriers to economic growth,” Steff says. “Now more than ever is the time to invest and do business here.”

The USMCA is a controversial trade agreement that was signed in 2018 to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that was implemented in 1994 to facilitate and govern about $1.2 trillion worth of trade between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. The new pact has the potential to enable the triumvirate to substantially expand an estimated $185 billion in technology product and services trade that exists between the three countries. In New Jersey some of the top exports to Canada and Mexico include chemicals, processed food, and intellectual property, among others.

Critics of the overhaul legislation contend various aspects of it will limit intellectual property protections, e-commerce regulations, and raise U.S. drug and automobile prices. For example, under the new legislation, a minimum of 75 percent of a new automobiles’ parts must be manufactured in Canada, the U.S., or Mexico in order to qualify for a zero tariff credit. Additionally, all work done on a vehicle must be completed by a worker earning a minimum of $16 per hour — substantially more than what a typical Mexican factory worker earns, according to various reports.

Another criticism is that provisions in the USMCA will ultimately limit Congress’ ability to modify domestic laws. Contrarily, vocal proponents of the new trade agreement, including Steff, argue the USMCA “modernizes” the outdated regulations of NAFTA, which failed to significantly address significant changes in domestic and international imports and exports.

Additionally, amendments in the USMCA will better serve the interests of American workers, farmers, and businesses. Mexico and Canada account for the biggest share of U.S. technology trade — with about one-third of tech exports and imports impacting more than 230,000 tech-related jobs in the country, according to some trade industry data.

For example, since 2010, and under the direction of former President Barack Obama, tech exports to Mexico from the U.S. increased by a whopping $11.9 billion. Similarly, tech exports to Canada jumped by about $500 million during the same period.

Steff credits the growth, at least in part, to components of the USMCA agreement. “Through the leadership of Donald Trump, the United States has entered an era of nearly unprecedented economic revival,” he said.

Steff is a native of Indiana. Prior to joining the U.S. Department of Commerce, he served as the Hoosier state’s first chief innovation officer and managed the state’s strategic implementation of science, technology development programs, and international trade agreements. Steff is a former member of the ways and means trade staff in the U.S. House of Representatives. He earned an undergraduate degree in international studies from American University, completed graduate study at the National Defense University, and earned a graduate degree in international science and technology from George Washington University.

He contends the IT industry is the key to establishing and maintaining a thriving and universally beneficial and trade based economy. Previously, Steff said short-term issues such as data localization, price control measures and higher tariffs may impede trade relationships between the U.S. and other countries. He said, “Some e-commerce regulations have not received the type of consultation that is needed with some of the large investors.”

A boon for entrepreneurs. According to a fact sheet from www.trade.gov/usmca the top 10 exports from New Jersey to Canada and Mexico for 2017 (the most recent figures available) are:

• Chemicals ($3.6 billion)

• Processed Food ($827.3 million)

• Computer & Electronic Products ($790.4 million)

• Metal Products ($613.6 million)

• Petroleum & Coal Products ($431.7 million)

• Machinery ($420.2 million)

• Plastics & Rubber Products ($402.6 million)

Steff says another benefit under the USMCA is that new customs and trade rules will eliminate red tape and other minutiae and make it easier for small business owners to tap into foreign markets and actively partake in cross border trade. “Due to regulatory cuts and a new simplified tax structure, America has become the best place in the world for business investment and opportunity,” he says.

Lastly, Steff and others laud various aspects of the USMCA as being an impetus of sorts for American businesses. “We are proud to bring leaders like Ian Steff together to discuss the economic and public policy issues that both businesses and consumers face,” said Peter Crowley, President and CEO of the Princeton Mercer Regional Chamber. “We succeed when we work together, and our Global Opportunities Program culminating with this summit is a catalyst for that outcome.”

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