Saturday, January 17, 2009

Obama and the trade fair industry

He is, even in advance of Tuesday's inauguration, being credited with miraculous powers. Put a wand in his hand, some seem to feel, and Barack "Harry Potter" Obama will defeat the forces of evil and send us all off to some economic equivalent of Honeydukes Sweetshop to eat Bertie Botts' beans until we are sick.

I hadn't seen a trade fair industry twist to the new President's apparently miraculous powers until reading this piece from TradeShow Week. There is actually a serious point here: international participation in US shows did suffer badly after the security clampdowns which followed 9/11. Some actually pointed to that as one of the contributing factors to the demise of Comdex.

I was under the impression that things had improved. But, the TradeShow Week piece quotes Charles Olentine, executive vice president of the U.S. Poultry & Egg Assn., saying that "he's looking forward to how changes might impact the association's Intl. Poultry Exposition". More than 10% of that event's visitors are international and the Olentine is quoted saying that "One of the major difficulties the show faces in attracting them is visa restrictions".

Apparently, the industry is hoping that Obama's pledge to rebuild ties with the rest of the world will extend to making it easier for business visitors to get into the US (or even just into the increasingly miserable US embassies around the world). We shall see. I suspect he may have higher priorities. And, Bush's great legacy to American bureaucracy, the Dept. of Homeland Security has just made it harder for people even from the visa waiver countries to get in by implementing the new ESTA computerised pre-notification system.

It seems I was not the first to think of the Harry Potter link. In doing a quick search here, I discover that The Spoof has decided that the young magician would be the perfect nominee for Deputy Secretary of Commece. Given Bill Richardson's withdrawal from the top job, perhaps young Harry can simply step up and magic along some US exports.


Anonymous said...

It's amazing how much US visa restrictions impacts US business. Just yesterday, my firm received a request from a Russian attorney for us to help four of his clients open bank accounts outside Russia. We told him that it only made sense for us to assist in the United States (not Switzerland) and he said that his clients would never want to open these accounts in the US because it is "just too hard" to get in. That same day, we sought to make New York the locale for arbitration in a contract we were drafting with a Korean company. They told us to make it Toronto, because they were worried about the difficulties in getting into New York easily for the arbitration. I told them that being from Korea there would probably be no such difficulties, but we went ahead and agreed on Toronto.

One day, one tiny law firm, multiple lost business opportunities for the US. Multiply that out and you do the math....

Paul Woodward said...

Quite so.

My sense is that the reality is now not nearly so bad as it was. The good folk in the State Dept. are well aware of the damage that was done and do their best to ameliorate the miserably pathetic experience which is all that they still can offer to most legitimate potential travellers to the US....not to mention the grouchy facisti who man the Immigration counters. But, the reputation is damaged hugely for the foreseeable future.

And, while the chattering classes in Washington still regard the Commerce Dept. as an embarrassing also=ran 'ministry', the importance of international business to the US's chances of recovery will continue to be massively underestimated.

I think Obama and many of the folk he has surrounded himself with are hugely impressive. But, if this issue rises too high on the agenda over the next few months, I'll be very suprised.