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Secretary Raimondo's Remarks on Increasing American Competitiveness at the Economic Club of New York


Thank you, Barbara, for that introduction, and thank you to the New York Economic Club for hosting me today.

It’s always great to be here in New York, especially during the holiday season when this city is so festive. We’re here together in person; people are out and about in the streets. It’s good to see a return to normalcy.

As we end the year and reflect on where we are, it has been a challenging year, but overall, I remain bullish on the American economy − and the American people.

We’ve made a great deal of progress over the last 11 months.

Creating more than 6 million jobs. Unemployment is down by more than 70% since the president took office.

Thanks to his leadership, Congress passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, a historic investment in our nation’s aging infrastructure.

I was integrally involved in negotiating this deal, particularly the broadband component. And the Commerce Department will oversee the administration of nearly $50 billion to deliver universal, high-speed broadband to every American.

Commerce is also responsible for investing $3 billion from the American Rescue Plan for economic development to support communities affected by the pandemic.

And as part of that, for the first time ever in history, Commerce is launching an initiative to develop industry-led workforce training and apprenticeships — adding extra emphasis on training women, people of color, and underserved communities.

We firmly believe that this will directly address some of the labor shortages that American businesses are currently facing.

Now, we need to pass the Build back Better Act.

Fundamentally, this legislation is designed to enable Americans to work and expand our economy by investing in America’s middle class.

It includes record investments in workforce training programs, public pre-K, affordable childcare, climate, and innovation.

As we all know, millions of women, in particular, are still out of the workforce.

If we are going to solve our labor shortages, we have to expand our labor force, especially by helping women to get back to work. Which requires affordable child care and Pre-K.

This afternoon, I want to spend my time talking to you about my approach to the Commerce Department.

Everything we do is designed to achieve one overarching goal: improve America’s economic competitiveness so that our workers and our companies can succeed in the global economy.

The Commerce Department is particularly well-positioned to lead in this regard because we sit on the red-hot center on advanced tech; growing the domestic economy; and strengthening trade and national security.

Perhaps more than past Commerce Secretaries, I will be equally focused on domestic and international initiatives.

America’s ability to compete globally depends first on strengthening our domestic workforce, technology innovation, supply chains, and rebuilding our manufacturing base — particularly for critical goods.

For me, rebuilding American R&D and manufacturing are personal.

My dad worked his whole career in the Bulova Watch Factory in Providence, Rhode Island. 

But after 28 years, his job moved to China as the company chased cheap labor. And just like all his buddies, my dad was forced into early retirement. 

But the truth of it is, what happened to my dad isn’t unique. It’s happened to millions of Americans over the last 40 years. 

And it’s part of a much bigger story about America’s declining investments in our workers and our economy.

So when President Biden called me and asked to leave my job as governor, I called my older brother asking, “should I do this?” 

And he said, “you have to do it, because dad would be so proud if he knew you were playing a role in rebuilding American manufacturing.” And that’s why I took this job.

I’ll be leading the Administration’s efforts on domestic investments in broadband; investing $50 billion to dramatically increase domestic production of semiconductors; I Co-Chair the President’s Supply Chain Task Force; and Commerce will house the Supply Chain Resiliency Office.

While we’re doing this important work domestically, President Biden has been very clear: we need to revitalize our alliances around the world.

The principles that will guide my international agenda are clear and straightforward:

  1. Rebuilding strategic alliances while driving international standards;
  2. Using international tools to strengthen our domestic economy; and
  3. Promoting American businesses and innovation while protecting our national security interests.

In that first area of rebuilding strategic alliances, I so far have focused extensively on Europe and the Indo Pacific — two critical regionals for US businesses and where we have historically strong relationships.

We launched the US-EU Trade and Technology Council, a mechanism to set the rules of the road for technology in accordance with our democratic values.

We will be updating and aligning our standards and tech policies for a 21st century economy; supporting transatlantic supply chains; and delivering for people and businesses in our countries.

The TTC is also a critical for a for us to make the concerns of US tech industry clear to our European allies.

As more business owners move their operations online, the work this council is doing will help American businesses access markets, reach new consumers, create new jobs at home, and ensure that Europe’s policies don’t impede with US competitiveness.

Our work to establish interoperable frameworks is a critical example of why it makes all the difference to reengage with our allies, rather than shutting them out.

I’m also co-leading the Administration’s effort on creating an economic framework with the Indo Pacific Region. I’ve recently returned from my first trip to Asia where I visited Japan, Malaysia, and Singapore.

After radio silence for four years, we were welcomed with open arms in the region.

That’ll be a great area of focus for me next year--creating and actualizing this framework.

Our partners and allies in the region are hungry for American leadership. They want to work with us on areas like supply chains, clean energy, and technology.

Here’s the reality: solving our supply chain bottlenecks is a global endeavor. 

We will need to shore up the like-minded partners who share our values and create a diverse, resilient, and sustainable supply chain. 

For example, 70% of the world’s leading-edge semiconductors are made in Taiwan. 

What happens if a natural disaster like a typhoon or an earthquake shuts down every chip factory there? 

When I was in Malaysia, where the vast majority of semiconductors are packaged and shipped to countries like the U.S., I visited facilities that had recently been closed due to COVID outbreaks. 

These are local events that have global effects. A COVID outbreak in Malaysia can bring an auto plant in Detroit to a screeching halt.

To address these challenges, the new Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, a vision of President Biden, will enhance collaboration and increase transparency and information sharing.

This will help us identify opportunities to collaborate on other shared priorities, like infrastructure and innovation investment. 

Coordination in these key areas, with allies and partners, is essential not only for global economic recovery, but to ensure American businesses are positioned to seize new opportunities in a post-pandemic world. 

The last thing we want is to be dependent on foreign countries that don’t share our values for critical components. 

The Indo Pacific includes some of the most dynamic economies in the world and it is essential that we return to the region, shore up relationships, and enable US industry to access these markets.

Second, the Department of Commerce is using international tools to strengthen our domestic economy while safeguarding American workers and businesses.

I believe American businesses are enhanced − not threatened − by competition with foreign companies − if there is a level playing field. 

But our companies shouldn’t have to compete against foreign governments, state-owned enterprises, or unfair, anti-competitive actions by foreign governments.

Our success depends on fair access to global markets and fair treatment by foreign governments. 

Take steel and aluminum as an example.

For too long, China was able to flood the global market with cheap steel and aluminum, making it more difficult for American workers to compete on a level playing field. 

As a result, the last Administration imposed tariffs on steel from the EU.

This punitive approach increased tension with our allies and increased prices.

In October, the US reasserted its global leadership by reaching a deal to allow a limited amount of steel and aluminum imports from the EU without tariffs.

The deal we struck walked a line of supporting America’s steel and aluminum industry, but also removing a major irritant from our relationship with the EU and increasing supply at a time when inflation is a prime concern for many Americans. 

It also protected thousands of American jobs by eliminating crippling retaliatory tariffs on iconic American brands like Harley Davidson or Jack Daniels.

Finally, the deal created a framework by which we will incentivize the “cleaner” steel and aluminum made in America and EU, while creating disincentives for the dirty, carbon-intensive materials made in places like China. 

I share this as an example of our approach and the important role the Commerce Department will play in strengthening our relationships with like-minded allies.

We are demonstrating leadership and strength in an effort to remove economic barriers, promote innovation, and lift up American businesses and workers.

Finally, we are focused on promoting American businesses and innovation while protecting national security interests.

Innovation is essential to our nation’s long-term prosperity. At the same time, we cannot allow our foreign adversaries to use our technology against our government or our businesses.

That’s why Commerce enforces export controls — regulations on the export of sensitive goods, software, and technology — to ensure our products aren’t being used against us by bad actors.

But in this regard too, we will have a different approach.

We will work with industry to further develop and define which products should be subject to further restriction. At the same time, our efforts will strike a balance between potential controls that may hurt American businesses, and implementing the restrictions needed to continue to protect our security.

And we’re aggressively promoting cybersecurity standards to prevent industrial espionage and cyber-attacks.

The Commerce Department is the central agency in the government related to cyber standards for business.

In this work, and indeed all our work, I want to be very clear that we intend to work in partnership with you and the business community to ensure smart, effective policy that enhance American competitiveness and innovation.

I’ll close with this.

For the past several years, we’ve seen what happens when we turn our backs on our allies and partners. We were isolated.

And as a result, our growth, our competitiveness, and our innovation diminished.

But this Administration and this Department of Commerce are charting a new path and re-establishing our leadership. 

 We are investing domestically and at the same time engaging with our allies to advance the interests of democracy around the world. 

We’re not just playing defense, we’re going on offense, too.

With all that we’ve accomplished this past year, I’m looking forward to the work 2022 will bring.

I know that government can’t do this alone. Now more than ever, public-private engagement is essential to building back better, and we want to work with you to solve these problems.

Commerce is just getting started, and we have no intention of taking our foot off the gas.

Today and every day, we are in pursuit of improving American competitiveness, investing in the American people, and increasing American innovation. 

We hope you’ll join us.