Asia, Business & trade, New in Lobbying

Thailand hires USTR veteran to undo Trump tariff hit

Thailand has hired a veteran US trade official to lobby Congress and the Donald Trump administration regarding trade preferences for the country’s seafood industry and other exports.

The Office of Commercial Affairs at the Thai Embassy in Washington retained Elena Bryan and her Pilot Rock Global Strategies firm on April 29, according to a new filing with the Department of Justice. The contract is for $27,500 and runs for the five months through September.

The contract was signed days after higher tariffs on certain Thai products went into effect because of concerns over labor rights in the country. The Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) first announced the administration’s decision to suspend $1.3 billion in trade preferences for Thailand under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) back in October.

USTR also took action against Thailand’s seafood industry, which has long faced allegations of human and labor rights abuses. Thailand is the world’s largest shrimp exporter.

“Due to longstanding worker rights issues in the seafood and shipping industries,” USTR said, “GSP eligibility will be revoked for all seafood products from Thailand.”

Some observers have blamed the US-China trade war for the decision, as tariffs on Chinese products have worsened the US trade deficit with Thailand and other nations.

“Some pundits suggest that the loss of GSP status is a result of the growing U.S. trade deficit [with Thailand] as importers of Chinese products have sought alternative sourcing in many Southeast Asian countries,” Baltimore Shapiro wrote in a regulatory note.

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Bryan, a 17-year veteran of USTR, had previously worked for the Thai agency starting in late June 2019. She reported being paid $27,500 in the six months through January 2020 and meeting twice with Deputy Assistant US Trade Representative for GSP Erland Herfindahl during that period.

Under the new contract, Bryan is tasked with helping restore the GSP preferences by helping with a “strategy to resolve U.S. worker rights concerns.” This includes reforms to the Thai Labor Protection Act.

She will also lobby on import bans for uncooked pork and offal and help Thailand retain its role as a leader of the Alliance of GSP Countries. Neither Bryan nor the Thai Embassy responded to requests for comment.

The contract was signed by Bryan and Noppadon Kuntamas, the head of the Office of Commercial Affairs at the Royal Thai Embassy. Bryan is the only registered foreign agent on the account.