AmCham Philippines Joins APCAC 2016 Washington Doorknock

Three AmCham Philippines members (George Drysdale, John Forbes, and Ebb Hinchliffe) were among 34 delegates from eleven countries participating in the three-day APCAC Doorknock June 21-24 in the nation’s capital. The Doorknock meeting was led by Jackson Cox from AmCham Thailand, chairman of the Asia Pacific Council of American Chambers of Commerce (APCAC). The other nine participating AmCham’s were from Australia, Bangladesh,China, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand/Myanmar, and Vietnam.
 
About APCAC. Founded in 1968, APCAC’s mission is to advance the competitiveness of U. S. business in the Asia-Pacific region. Currently it has 29 American chambers as members. The association represents the interests of over 15,000 businesses in the region, employing over 10 million people, managing annual trade volumes above $500 billion and FDI over $600 billion.
 
The Doorknock facilitates AmCham representatives of U. S. business living abroad in developing relationships with key decision-makers in Washington and giving APCAC officers perspectives on regional developments and the high importance of U. S. policy supporting a strong American presence in the region in terms of both hard and soft power.
 
In this regard, APCAC is currently focused on assuring American inclusion in the developing Asian trade system, in order that our rules in many areas of regional business activity will be influential.
Doorknock Key Actionables. For the 2016 Doorknock ACPAC supported and advocated four principal policies for the US policy decision-makers, especially in the Congress:
 
(1) Ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP),
(2) Adopt a territorial (residence- based) tax system,
(3) Repeal the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA),
and
(4) Support APEC Business Travel Cards.
 
Briefing at BGR. Delegates assembled for a pre-Doorknock briefing at the offices of the BGR Group office (www.bgrdc.com), a large bipartisan lobbying and public relations firm, which APCAC had engaged for our Congressional meetings. Here we learned more details of the legislative calendar for the remainder of the current Congress, ending in December and about prospects for key legislation, especially in the context of the 2016 US election campaign.
 
Day One – Think Tanks. Our Doorknock visited five leading “think tanks” for meetings that were very helpful in improving our understanding of how best to pitch our arguments in Congress. How much should we talk about the “pivot” or “rebalancing” or China making the rules in the future instead of the United States? We were told that, while many in Congress understand these arguments, their constituents who had lost jobs did not, and trade unions were opposed to new free trade treaties. At the same time, we learned that less than 20% of dismissed manufacturing employees lost their jobs because of trade. Better technology and improved productivity are the most to blame.
 
The think tanks were:
 
(1) Center for American Progress (left-of-center), founded by John Podesta, former chief of staff of President Clinton and chairman of the Hilary Clinton presidential campaign, where we met with two former senior national security officials,
 
(2) Center for Strategic and International Studies, ranked best in the world for security and international affairs, where we met with two professional staff members, one an expert on China and the other in Southeast Asia,
 
(3) Heritage Foundation (politically conservative), which has long been the intellectual architect and analytic center for the Republican Party, where we met with five professional staff members,
 
(4) Peterson Institute for International Economics, twice voted best “think tank” in the world, where we met with three economists, and
 
(5) Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, ranked one of the top ten “think tanks” globally, where we met with three economists.
 
Day Two – Executive Branch. A full day of briefings was arranged at the impressive headquarters of the United States Chamber of Commerce, the world’s largest business association, with over three million members. “Manila” (which donated funds for the construction of the building) appears on the huge brass plaque in the lobby just above “Memphis,” when the building was dedicated in 1925.
 
The program opened with overviews by Bruce Josten, EVP for Government Affairs, and Tami Overby, SVP for Asia, of the political climate in Washington in general and affecting our Doorknock Four Actionables. An impressive discussion of the global security picture followed from Admiral James A. Winnefeld, Jr., former Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Senior White House USTR staff who provided briefings on US trade relations with China, Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia, and APEC, with an emphasis on the TPP.
 
At lunch, a distinguished Democratic Party strategist, Harold Ickes, spoke, followed by a Republican Party pollster. Three more briefers filled the afternoon, from the departments of Treasury and State and the Deputy Policy Director of Trump for President.
 
Day Three – Congress. The highlight of every Doorknock – and the main reason for 11 AmCham’s to travel halfway around the world – is Congress.
 
Professionally-assisted by the BGR Group, the 2016 APCAC Doorknock delegation participated in 28 meetings. In the morning these were large group meetings, then after lunch our delegation divided into five groups to visit offices of House and Senate members and key staff.
 
Our seven morning meetings included strong supporters of the TPP – Senator Steve Daines (R-Montana), Senator Cory Gardener (R-Colorado), Rep. Scott Peters (D-California), Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wisconsin), and Dave Riechert (R-Washington). We were reassured in these meetings that there are strong advocates and supporters of the TPP in both political parties in Congress who understand Asia and the importance of strengthening US relations and better trade and investment regimes in the region.
 
Other Congressional officials our teams meet with during the day included Trade Counsel to House Speaker Paul Ryan, Policy Advisor to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican Chief International Trade Counsel to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Senator Orin Hatch, several members of Congress, and numerous senior professional staff personnel.

Day Four – Philippines Only. Our last day in Washington was devoted to a mini-Doorknock only for the Philippines. Philippine Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Minister Patrick Chuasoto, joined by almost ten of his staff, hosted our three-member delegation for a morning meeting and a lively discussion of mutual investment and trade issues, among which the TPP was most prominent.
 
We met with Department of State W. Patrick Murphy, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Southeast Asia, and briefly met his colleague Ambassador Sung Kim, whom President Obama has nominated as the next US ambassador to the Philippines. At the US Chamber of Commerce we sat down with John Goyer, Senior Director, Southeast Asia, to discuss future support activities should the Philippines apply to enter the TPP. And we had a pleasant reunion with Ms. Gloria Steele, Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Asia, USAID, who sent her regards to AmCham Philippines.
 
Socials: No Doorknock is complete without social events after each day’s meetings. Singapore Ambassador Ashok Kumar Mirpur (Singapore) hosted a reception at the Singapore Embassy, attended by many Washington corporate and public sector officials interested in Asia. Coca Cola hosted a reception at its office overlooking the White House, featuring an inspiring talk by former State Department Undersecretary Wendy Sherman. Our third evening involved a decadeold Doorknock tradition (started by Rob Sears, dinner at McCormack and Schmick’s seafood restaurant, where our delegation hosted several Washington-based friends of AmCham Philippines.
 
Conclusions re-Doorknock Key Actionables. Our advocacies were systematically raised in all meetings, with TPP ratification
the most important.
 
(1) Ratify the TPP. Free trade is more controversial in the 2016 campaign than in any U. S. elections in decades. Both presidential candidates oppose the current TPP draft treaty negotiated under President Obama. The Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, opposes the TPP and wants to radically revise NAFTA. 
 
President Obama is pushing for TPP ratification in a lame duck session (after Election Day while Congress is still in session, which is currently December 16). Under TPA “fasttrack” procedures the TPP vote can only be yes-or-no by simple majority. But the Senate requires 60 votes in order to stop the filibuster delay tactic. 
 
Failure to ratify this year will present the risk of a long delay (under Mrs. Clinton) or likely abandonment (under Mr. Trump). Meanwhile the other TPP parties are sending the message to Washington that renegotiation is not an option.
 
(2) Adopt a territorial (residence-based) tax system. Any reform will have to come in the context of comprehensive tax reform. Corporate tax reforms, including un-repatriated funds and the inversion issue are high priority issues, more than personal income taxes of US citizens abroad. No major tax laws will be passed the new administration and new Congress.
 
(3) Repeal FATCA. Neither repeal nor reform will happen soon, and OECD countries are introducing similar laws. However, making the law less onerous to Americans abroad is a message the Doorknock sought to convey.
 
(4) Support APEC Business Travel Cards. The Doorknock raised awareness of the need to reauthorize the BTC program when it expires in 2018.