2023 National Export Council Meeting Report

DECThe California Chamber of Commerce recently joined nearly 150 trade specialists from across the nation for sessions focused on trade issues at the National Association of District Export Councils (NADEC) annual two-day event in Washington, D.C.

The NADEC is made up of the 60 regional district export councils. The more than 1,500 DEC members around the country all are appointed by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce. The mission of the DECs is to work with the Commerce Department on export promotion and commercial diplomacy.

Susanne T. Stirling, CalChamber vice president of international affairs, and Nikki Ellis, CalChamber international affairs specialist, were among participants at the May 9-10 events. Stirling serves on the Northern California DEC and is an associate member of the NADEC.

Attending the conference from California were members of the NorCal DEC, the SoCal DEC, the San Diego and Imperial DEC, and the Inland Empire DEC.

National Association of District Export Councils Annual Export Conference

Day 1

Jonathan Szucs, NADEC Chair and president of Superabrasives Inc., opened the conference with a welcome to the group gathered in Washington D.C. for the two-day event. Kendee Yamaguchi, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Field from the U.S. Department of Commerce, and John Worthington, President & CEO of IBT Online, and a platinum sponsor of the conference, also gave their welcomes to the group.

The opening plenary session was titled “The Global Trading System: Understanding its Realignment”. The plenary session set the stage for the rest of the days sessions, covering the shift in risk factors that exporters must now consider, the closure of particular markets, and the emergence of new opportunities and trading partners. The conversation for the opening session included: David Day, Chairman, Global Risk Mitigation Foundation/Hawaii DEC/NADEC Trade Policy Committee; Everett Eissenstat, Chair, Edelman Global Advisory for the U.S. and Canada/ Former Chief International trade Counsel to the U.S. Senate and White House Deputy Director of the National Economic Council; and Andrea Thompson, Vice President for International Programs, Northrop Grumman/ Former Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs.

Following the opening session, the group split up for the first break out sessions. The first session was an SME Trade Agenda Update. Speakers included: Dr. Christina Sevilla, Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for small business, market access, and industrial competitiveness; Joseph Hanley, National Director for the U.S. Field, U.S. Commercial Service; and Christine Brown, Director of Trade, Small Business Association. The session was moderated by Richard Grana, SME Impex, from the Kentucky DEC.

The concurrent session was focused on strategies and tactics for new emerging export markets. This session was moderated by Tom Dustman, International Sales Director for SUNNEN, from the Missouri DEC. The speakers included: Danica Starks, Senior U.S. Commercial Liaison to the World Bank and Head of the Department of Commerce Multilateral Development Bank; Zaheer Faruqi, CEO, Aventure Aviation/ Georgia DEC; and Peter Clement, SVP of International Factoring, Rosenthal & Rosenthal, Inc.

The late morning breakout sessions included a panel on U.S.-Africa Trade Policy moderated by W.E. Da’Cruz, Co-founder and COO of the VGC Group/East Michigan DEC. This panel featured: Scott Eisner, President, U.S.-Africa Business Center, U.S. Chamber of Commerce; William Fanjoy, Senior Advisor for Private Sector Engagement, Prosper Africa; Heather Lanigan, Regional Director for Sub-Saharan Africa, U.S. Trade Development Agency; Toyin Umersiri, Founder & CEO, Nazaru LLC/ Illinois DEC; and Dr. Theirry Wandji, CEO, Cybastion Tech.

The other breakout session focused on indigenous communities and global trade, exploring best practices for engagement, capacity building, and opportunity. The session was moderated by Fred Latuperissa, President, ExIm 20/20 Group/Inland Empire California DEC. The session’s speakers included: Myron Lizer, former Vice President of the Navajo Nation; Derrick Watchman, Board Chairman, National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development; Kyia Jackson, Export Business Development Specialist, Arizona Export Center, Minority Business Development Agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The lunchtime keynote address was given by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Deputy Secretary Don Graves.

Lunch also featured a conversation on trade with the Small Business Administration’s Administration Isabella Guzman.

After lunch, the first breakout session focused on agriculture and national security. Panelists included: Michael Brooks, Senior Agriculture Advisor to Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota; Timothy Hughes, Senior Trade Advisor in the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Commissioner; and Kelly Wheeler, Export Manager, Aviagen, Inc. The panel was moderated by Bradley McKinney, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at the Krach Institute for Tech Diplomacy at Purdue University.

The other breakout session covered post-covid logistics and how to leverage resources to be more competitive. Panelists included: Tom Cook, Managing Director, Blue Tiger International/New York DEC; Joe Mantello, Director of Logistics, Quosina Corporation; Jason Cook, Managing Director, Argent Logistics; and Kelly Raia, COO, National Institute for World Trade. The panel was moderated by Jim Haynes, Director of Business Development, Rohlig USA, LLC/Northern Ohio DEC.

The final afternoon breakout sessions covered strategic exporting and investment to enhance global competitive and security. The panelists for this session included: Lt. General Wallace C Gregson, retired USMC and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia; Colonel Arthur M. Romanillos Jr. of the Philippine Army and Army attaché to the U.S.; and Anthony Scotti, Chief Operations Officer, Gyrene. The panel was moderated by Dr. Elizabeth Chan of the Global Risk Mitigation Foundation.

Meanwhile, the other final breakout session focused on the relationship between DECs and universities, and their partnership to help firms boost exports. The panelists included: Rebecca Bellinger, University of Maryland/ Maryland-DC DEC; Kimberly Brown, CEO of Amethyst Technologies/ Chair, Maryland-DC DEC; Joyce Steffan from the Ohio State University/ Northern Ohio DEC; and Kim Smith, CEO, Plidco/ Northern Ohio DEC. The panel was moderated by Mark Ballam of San Diego State’s Center for International Business Education and Research, of the San Diego & Imperial DEC.

The group then reunited for a presentation of the Executive Secretary of the Year and DEC of the Year awards, presented by Jonathan Szucs, Kendee Yamaguchi, and Mark Ballam, who was a gold sponsor of the conference. The award for Executive Secretary of the Year was presented to Indiana DEC’s Mark Cooper. The DEC of the year went to the Georgia DEC, while other nominees included the Arkansas DEC, California’s Inland Empire DEC, and the Oregon DEC.

The conference closed with a final panel titled “Global Markets Snapshots: Opportunities and Challenges”. Dale Tasharski, Deputy Director General of the U.S. Department of Commerce moderated the panel made up of Department of Commerce representatives. The panel featured regional experts: Scott Tatlock, Deputy Assistant Secretary for China; Cameron Werker, Executive Director of the Office of Europe and Eurasia; Diane Jones, Executive Director of the Office of the Western Hemisphere; Pamela Phan, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Asia; and Camille Richardson, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Africa.

Jonathan Szucs provided closing remarks, before the conference concluded and an evening networking reception began. The group enjoyed reuniting and meeting with old and new colleagues from various DECs from around the country.

Day 2

The second day of the conference featured a “Welcome the Hill Breakfast”, which started bright and early at the Senate Visitors Center on Capitol Hill.

The NADEC Capitol Hill Day aimed to increase awareness and understanding among members of Congress regarding the importance of exports to the U.S. economy, including the significance of securing new and improved market access.

Remarks were given by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition which was followed by a presentation of the Congressional Trade Advocates of the Year award. The Export Advocate of the year award was formally named after Tom Norwalk, former NADEC member who strongly supported free trade and promoted free trade advocacy on Capitol Hill. Senator Thun of South Dakota and Senator Koons of Kansas received this year’s award because of their push to get a free trade agreement with the UK into place.

During the breakfast, the group heard from multiple panels. Including discussions between House and Senate Small Business Committee staff, House Ways & Means Committee’s Trade sub-committee and House Agriculture Committee staff, and the Senate Finance Committee’s International Trade sub-committee.

The group was also honored to receive a few presentations from the Office of Congressman Comer who stopped by the breakfast to speak about critical trade issues.

After the breakfast, DEC members met with their state’s Congressional Representatives and staff members to inform them of the importance of trade and trade legislation to our nation’s businesses.

The National Association of District Export Councils meetings next year will be held again in Washington, D.C. with dates to be determined.

Susanne T. Stirling
Susanne T. Stirling, vice president, international affairs, has headed CalChamber international activities for more than four decades. She is an appointee of the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to the National Export Council, and serves on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce International Policy Committee, the California International Relations Foundation, and the Chile-California Council. Originally from Denmark, she studied at the University of Copenhagen and holds a B.A. in international relations from the University of the Pacific, where she served as a regent from 2012 to 2021. She earned an M.A. from the School of International Relations at the University of Southern California. See full bio.