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International Trade

By Andrew Goldberg, Managing Director, Government Relations & Outreach

More than 95 percent of the world’s population lives outside of the United States, creating many opportunities for American architects to work abroad. While the domestic design and construction industry has faced a challenging economy for the past five years, international opportunities across the globe have helped some firms weather the storm. Making sure that Americans can work abroad and have the resources to export their services is key to making sure that the architecture profession can expand globally and keep jobs at home.


OBAMA. The Democratic Party’s 2012 platform states that the Party “know[s] that America has the best workers and businesses in the world. If the playing field is level, Americans will be able to compete against every other country on Earth.” The platform states that President Obama “signed into law new trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama that will support tens of thousands of private-sector jobs, but not before he strengthened these agreements on behalf of American workers and businesses.” The party also states that they “remain committed to finding more markets for American-made goods – including using the Trans-Pacific Partnership between the United States and eight countries in the Asia-Pacific, one of the most dynamic regions in the world – while ensuring that workers’ rights and environmental standards are upheld, and fighting against unfair trade practices.”

In addition, the platform states: “Both publicly and privately, the President has made clear to the Chinese government that it needs to take steps to appreciate its currency so that America is competing on a level playing field. … The President is committed to continuing to fight unfair trade practices that disadvantage American producers and workers, including illegal subsidies, non-tariff barriers, and abuse of worker rights or environmental standards.”

ROMNEY. The Republican Party’s 2012 platform states: “International trade is crucial for our economy. It means more American jobs, higher wages, and a better standard of living. Every $1 billion in additional U.S. exports means another 5,000 jobs here at home.” The platform also expresses the Party’s frustration with countries that limit access to foreign markets “while stealing our designs, patents, brands, know-how, and technology—the ‘intellectual property’ that drives innovation.”

The platform states that “Because American workers have shown that, on a truly level playing field, they can surpass the competition in international trade, we call for the restoration of presidential Trade Promotion Authority.” The goal of this Authority “will ensure up or down votes in Congress on any new trade agreements, without meddling by special interests.” The party also backs a “worldwide multilateral agreement among nations committed to the principles of open markets, what has been called a ‘Reagan Economic Zone,’ in which free trade will truly be fair trade for all concerned.” With regard to China, the platform states: “Our serious trade disputes, especially China’s failure to enforce international standards for the protection of intellectual property and copyrights, as well as its manipulation of its currency, call for a firm response from a new Republican Administration.”


The AIA’s Public Policies and Position Statements state that the “AIA supports the use of uniform criteria for licensure that facilitate reciprocity and do not inhibit the interstate and international practice of architecture. Further, the AIA supports the global collaboration of architects, and the continued promotion of excellence in international education, practice, and design while honoring cultural diversity worldwide. The AIA supports its members' international practices through the benefits of membership and by fostering positive working relationships among architects and international architecture organizations.”

While there are many opportunities in international work, U.S. architects face numerous challenges. Members report that there are concerns about payment for fees, and that there are no legal frameworks for the challenging lack of payment. In addition, some foreign governments support services exports of their architects through grants, tax incentives and other programs, to promote their country’s influence in foreign markets.

Another issue that has been reported is the lack of the copyright protection for members’ work abroad. There have been allegations of companies stealing conceptual designs without any compensation. Finally, there is a significant investment that members need to make in order to be successful abroad, and returns on those investments can take some time to arrive.

The AIA is committed to helping AIA members find opportunities to work abroad. This month, the AIA and the Department of Commerce conducted the first-ever architectural trade mission to India, and further trade missions are being explored.

We hope you will add your thoughts and comments to the discussion on Facebook.
And if you think we missed an important point or facet of the candidates’ platforms, let us know at

For more information on how AIA DesignVote12 can help you participate in the 2012 election, please click here.

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