Meridian Global Business Briefing with Mr. Dilawar Syed, Special Representative for Commercial & Business Affairs

Puru Trivedi, Vice President - External & Corporate Affairs and Dilawar Syed, Special Representative for Commercial & Business Affairs engage in a fireside chat

On February 10, 2023, the Meridian Corporate Council partnered with Abbott Laboratories to host a Global Business Briefing with Special Representative Dilawar Syed. The discussion, moderated by Meridian Vice President of External and Corporate Affairs, Puru Trivedi, covered various aspects of U.S. commercial diplomacy in a changing global landscape. The event concluded with an announcement of the formation of the Meridian Corporate Council Working Groups in the coming months, providing private sector input and counsel to S/R Syed and his commercial diplomacy efforts. More information will be forthcoming.

Below are the top takeaways from the program:

  1. A Unique Global Moment

The world is entering a new age of hyper-competition, affected by once-in-a-century transnational challenges including the war in Ukraine, the pandemic, and climate change. In this landscape, S/R Syed stressed that we “are no longer the only game in town” – commercial diplomacy will matter more than ever in advocating for and supporting the U.S. private sector abroad. The State Department has multiple tools at its disposal to make this happen, including economic officers stationed abroad, Direct Lines connecting American companies to foreign opportunities and close cooperation with the Department of Commerce, USTR, and other agencies. By bringing a private sector background to commercial diplomacy, S/R Syed hopes to harness the unrivalled entrepreneurship and innovation of the U.S. private sector and create a level playing field for American businesses abroad.

  1. Show Up and Harness Goodwill

As part of his commercial diplomacy work, S/R Syed has travelled to over 12 countries and held 60 senior meetings with foreign government officials, and he noted a tremendous amount of goodwill for U.S. companies and a clamor for American products and services. Yet he also received consistent feedback across bilateral and multilateral meetings: U.S. companies need to show up more. American businesses will continue to lose ground to competitors without being more aggressive in outreach, more innovative with business/transaction models and more willing to harness unique assets such as the power of U.S. education and diaspora connections. A focus on innovative and engaging approaches and opportunities abroad will yield dividends, and the State Department’s Bureau of Commercial and Business Affairs (CBA) will provide its full support for these endeavors.

  1. “You Are Ambassadors for Our Values”

American companies contribute more than just their innovation and entrepreneurship to commercial diplomacy efforts – they are ambassadors of U.S. values abroad in their direct engagement with countries and local communities. S/R Syed expressed his pride in the moral realm of private sector engagement, including America’s commitment to a free and open internet and respecting national sovereignty, values which carry weight with foreign interlocutors when comparing us to our competitors. This has translated into practical steps such as the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act and the sustained groundswell of support from U.S. companies in supporting and rebuilding Ukraine’s economy.

  1. Opportunities for Private Sector Engagement

S/R Syed noted several upcoming opportunities for the private sector to engage with summits and conferences in the coming months. The State Department’s Call to the Private Sector to Advance Democracy exhorts the private sector to contribute to the Second Summit for Democracy in March. The U.S. will also host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum in 2023 for the first time in 11 years, which will focus on sustainability with an integral role for the private sector through events and mechanisms such as the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC). The Cities Summit of the Americas in Denver in April will also represent a unique opportunity for the private sector to engage with subnational diplomacy and expand its impact in urban centers across the Western Hemisphere.

  1. Democratizing Access to Commercial Diplomacy

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) play a critical role in driving entrepreneurship and creativity both at home and abroad, and U.S. SMEs are rapidly expanding their global footprint. There remains, however, a key asymmetry in access to America’s commercial diplomacy toolkit in favor of MNCs and large companies. S/R Syed hopes to change this status-quo by reaching out to SMEs across America, connecting them with economic officers and State Department programs to be a force for good overseas. Digital outreach and social media are hence important tools in growing awareness of commercial diplomacy across the United States, as are S/R Syed’s numerous domestic trips. By democratizing access to commercial diplomacy, the State Department and U.S. government at large can invest in the next generation of American entrepreneurs.

Project summary

Meridian Global Business Briefing with Mr. Dilawar Syed, Special Representative for Commercial & Business Affairs | February 2023
Number of Visitors: 27
Number of Attendees: 27
Regions: Western Hemisphere, Africa, East Asia and Pacific, Europe and Eurasia, Near East and North Africa, South and Central Asia
Impact Areas: Business and Trade, Entrepreneurship, Foreign Policy
Program Areas: Diplomatic Engagement
Partners: Private Sector