What Should the Theme of the Washington Trade Conference Be?

One of the signature events of the Washington Council on International Trade was always the “Senators Conference.” So called because, well, it always featured both of Washington state’s U.S. Senators at a conference talking about international trade policy. For example – as a fun, historical momento – here’s Senator Murray’s remarks at the 2001 event (the same year the Mariners won 116 games…coincidence?).

It’s always been the only opportunity for Washington businesses and organizations to gather with their DC delegation to discuss the trade policy issues of the day. And I’m excited that one of the first things I’m going to do in my new tenure is to bring the conference back…renamed the Washington Trade Conference to reflect the fact that it will feature not only our Senators but the rest of our Congressional electeds who all do so much to forward the cause of international trade on behalf of our state. A save the date will be going out soon for the event, which will take place in November.

But if we’re going to do the conference again this year, we’ll need a theme. And I could use your help figuring out what it should be.

For some historical perspective, the last conferences in 2007 and 2008 were themed “Choosing China or India: The future for trade and business” and “Maintaining Washington’s Competitiveness in Uncertain Times” respectively. It’s supposed to bring folks together around a current, pressing issue so that we can build consensus around action and engagement. I’ve got a few ideas:

1) “Maintaining Port Competitiveness”: With all the talk about competition for our ports from Canada and the widening of the Panama canal, this is a major issue for jobs and trade. How do we ensure that our ports continue to be an attractive spot for importing and exporting as other places become faster routes to market and/or cheaper because of regulatory or labor costs? So, you could talk about everything from the Harbor Maintenance Tax to federal transportation/freight mobility investments and policies.

2) “International Business = International Trade”: I’ve already talked about this a lot, so you don’t need me to recap it. But, if that’s really a major thrust of my efforts, then it’d probably make sense to highlight it at our signature event. You could have representatives from sectors like global health, architecture, tourism and finance talking about the various federal policy issues they’re facing, and maybe even learn about shared priorities between them.

3) “China”: I’m hesitant to do a China conference, because everyone’s already talking about China. But, I guess they’re talking about it for a reason. And maybe they’re not talking as much about the specific policy issues that we could focus on that would ensure a level playing field and a competitive trade opportunity from IP protections to currency valuation to more open markets.

4) “NEI and WSEI”: For the acronym-uninclined, that’s the National Export Initiative and the Washington State Export Initiative – two major efforts to increase exports nationally and at the state level respectively. What’s actually happening with those initiatives? How will they impact Washington’s trade economy? What are the policy issues that we can advocate for to ensure their success? These are the kinds of questions that we could ask and answer. Plus, Governor Gregoire’s daughter Courtney runs the NEI, so it seems like we could probably get a pretty good speaker.

Which of the above do you like, and/or what else am I missing? “Trade with Emerging Markets” could look at issues in places like Cambodia and Vietnam (big for our apparel companies) or Africa (global health). “Trade Means Jobs” could promote trade as the answer to our current domestic economic woes. Or even “The Societal Impacts of Trade” to discuss how increased trade affects not just an economy but a culture.

Vote now in the comment section, and let me know!

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