Chips and Trade: The Semiconductor Industry and the Fate of the TPP

September 15, 2016

By Kristin Brown, Senior Vice President, Corporate & Public Affairs

This article was featured in The Hill’s Congress Blog.

Not that long ago the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) seemed like all but a done deal – it was a key White House priority and was one of the rare issues that had support from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. Sure, there were some details to hammer out, but passage of what would be the largest US-led free trade agreement to date was virtually assured.

Now, less than 90 days out from the presidential election, the TPP faces a much murkier future. Driven by populist forces on both sides, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have expressed their opposition to the TPP as it stands today.

Of the many industries looking for opportunities in this new trade deal, the semiconductor space has special interest and for good reason. In 2014, a full 41 percent of US semiconductor exports went to nations covered under the TPP. TPP nations also play host to foundries and manufacturing facilities that are vital to the growth of the semiconductor industry. Furthermore, the TPP was set to bring new rules on encryption standards and trade secret protections that would greatly benefit semiconductor companies.

Given this new – and unexpected – rocky road for the passage of this landmark trade deal, what can semiconductor companies do to ensure their voice is heard in Washington, D.C.?

Reset the Message: While the strong pushback against the TPP was perhaps unexpected, the renewed debate offers an opportunity to reframe and reset the trade narrative. 2016 is clearly turning into a political realignment year with long-held party priorities changing for both Democrats and Republicans. With a new White House and new Congress on the horizon, policymakers will be looking for experts that can provide informed guidance and help them crystalize their positions.

Smart companies will seize on this opportunity to explore new ways to frame and discuss how the semiconductor industry is fostering the future of American industry and how ensuring access to markets like the Asian-Pacific region is needed to keep the United States competitive in a global, connected world. New decision makers will be looking for fresh voices and interesting perspectives on the issues that matter. The companies and industries that are ready to answer that call in January will be the ones who grab and keep a seat at the table in the years to come.

Be Social: Did you know that every single Senator and 97% of House members are active on Twitter? Regularly scanning social media activity is a priority in every Congressional office and it’s not uncommon for a well-placed hashtag campaign or a smart online conversation to play a major role in changing how issues are viewed and discussed. Smart companies looking to weigh in on TPP will need to engage in sustained, strategic social media activity to directly reach policymakers, the media and other influencers who will drive the debate.

Get Personal: On both sides of the trade debate, the most effective arguments are those that tell the human stories of who wins and who loses in the wake of globalization. In the years since trade deals like NAFTA, there has been much well-warranted debate about the toll it may have taken on workers in the United States and abroad. Much of the TPP backlash comes from concerns that this deal may have similar effects. For the semiconductor industry, however, it’s easy to see how this kind of deal could be used to strengthen American industries and create opportunities for the people they employ. Using videos, blog posts, and traditional media outreach, semiconductor companies can tell stories of their own employee successes and showcase how the jobs created by the industry are exactly the types of high-precision, STEM-driven opportunities that America is trying to cultivate. By taking personal stories and then backing them up with real economic data, the industry can shape the narrative.

For semiconductor companies concerned about preserving the opportunities presented by TPP, these kinds of tactics and approaches should be seen as part of a critical toolset that can help them navigate the increasingly shifting political landscape. With a political realignment on trade comes a new opportunity to talk about trading intelligently, in a way that benefits both the American people, our trade partners and the high tech companies who are driving the 21st century economy.  While the fate of this trade deal is still uncertain, what is certain is that the companies who are ready to activate around it in 2017 will be best placed to steer the policy in the direction that ensures continued growth and opportunity for years to come.

Kristin Brown is Racepoint Global’s Senior Vice President, Corporate & Public Affairs.