What the Stanley Cup Finals tell us about international trade
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We already know that the Olympicsbaseballfootballbasketball, and marathons hold important lessons for trade policy. But what about hockey? As we watch the action on the ice during the Stanley Cup Finals, let’s take a look.

Hockey knows no climate 

Hockey is a cold weather sport with northern origins. Yet, through the magic of climate-controlled technology, people can enjoy it in warm locations and seemingly out of season. It is true that many of the NHL’s teams are based in colder climates, but several are based in cities — including Phoenix and Tampa Bay — that are not associated with winter sports.

This exposes the game to more fans than we would otherwise expect. Fan interest is also maintained through a nine-month season, including the playoffs that stretch into summer. On Saturday night, when the Nashville Predators hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins in the third game of the Stanley Cup Finals, the temperature outside Bridgestone Arena was in the 80s.Yet, the temperature inside was much colder, enabling play to proceed on the ice.

Trade affords us similar opportunities to enjoy or sell our favorite products out of season. Through the magic of climate-controlled technology deployed throughout supply chains, combined with trade rules that permit safe and easy movement of goods between the northern and southern hemispheres, we now have access to an increasing array of fruits and vegetables that were previously limited (“out of season”). Not only does trade provide year-round availability, but it also increases overall demand for products, benefiting domestic producers as well. 

Hockey is international

Although the “N” in the NHL stands for “National,” hockey has a strong international flavor. Seven of the 32 teams that competed in the 2016-17 season are based in Canada. Moreover, players on all teams historically have hailed from nearly 30 countries, across Europe, Asia and North America. In fact, only about 15 percent of NHL players have claimed U.S. nationality.

Canada boasts nearly two-thirds of all players, while Sweden, Russia, the Czech Republic, Finland and Slovakia have all contributed more than 1 percent of NHL players. U.S.-based hockey fans may be rooting for the local team, but the players they are cheering for are from all around the world.

Similarly, in trade, global supply chains mean that domestic firms owe their success to international partners spanning the globe. Products made in the United States are often only possible because they use foreign-made inputs. Many times, international partners include foreign-based U.S. nationals and U.S.-based foreign nationals working for U.S. companies.

When the U.S. government promotes American-based manufacturing or U.S. exports, it is implicitly promoting those companies’ foreign content as well. Conversely, imported goods often contain high U.S. content in the form of physical materials or intangible contributions. For example, 70 percent of the retail value of most imported clothing is attributed to U.S. sources.

Hockey requires teamwork and discipline

Teams make and advance in the playoffs when they have a great defense AND a great offense. While having a superstar is definitely a crowd pleaser, it is usually not enough to guarantee success. Moreover, that teamwork depends on individual discipline — in cooperation with other teammates and in avoiding costly penalties. 

Being sent to the penalty box not only denies a player the ability to make offensive or defensive contributions, but it also gives the opposing team a heightened scoring chance via a power play — sort of a legally- and temporarily-stacked deck. Teams that stay out of the "sin bin" end up in the playoffs. Those that don’t, watch them. 

Teamwork and discipline are critical in trade too. Today’s global supply chains rely on a complex choreography of manufacturers, shippers, exporters and importers to pass cargo around the world — ultimately to the end consumer. Similarly, free trade agreements (FTAs) are — at their core — a codification of commitments and obligations that individual countries agree to follow. 

Companies engaging in the trade partnerships that those FTAs create are relying upon those trade rules to provide certainty, guarantee protections and provide recourse if somebody breaks the rules. Occasionally, countries violate the trade obligations to which they’ve agreed and end up in the sin bin. The resulting power plays — authorized sanctions or trade remedies — may not be as exciting as their hockey equivalents, but they are no less effective in conferring a temporary advantage to the aggrieved party.

Hockey is non-stop

Hockey’s pace of play is continuous, featuring a constant blur of the puck whizzing about the ice and players crashing against the boards. Even goalies are restless, presenting a forever shifting barrier to keep an opposing player from "lighting the lamp". Equating such motion with success, hockey great Wayne Gretzky famously said he “skates to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” 

Trade is also forever in motion, with an army of workers advancing cargo — and the electronic services that help move that cargo — around the globe. The rise of e-commerce, as well as the evolution of speed-to-market fashions and just-in-time manufacturing, means that this motion is only accelerating. Trade policy is also constantly in motion as it evolves to incorporate a shifting economy and ever-changing political dynamics. 

This leaves us with one final comparison: 

If the first few months of 2017 is any guide, the coming year will reshape many traditional trade policy views and assumptions. Some groups, such as the Washington International Trade Administration (WITA), are already tackling this challenge by imagining where trade policy will be five to 10 years from now.

Channeling Gretzky, perhaps we all need to go a step further as we contemplate trade policy’s next puck drop. Let’s not just skate to where the puck is going to be, but let’s look further down the road and drive to where the ice rink is going to be built and the hockey game will be played. 

Steve Lamar is executive vice president at the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA). He is responsible for the design and execution of AAFA lobbying strategies on a series of issues covering trade, supply chains and brand protection. Lamar is also president of the Washington International Trade Association (WITA), an organization dedicated to providing a neutral forum for discussion of international trade policy and related issues.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.