Neal Asbury, a South Florida entrepreneur and international trader, is a man with a mission.

An unabashed U.S. booster, he wants to carry the mantra of fair and open business and trade practices around the world.

In an international career that has spanned three decades and in which he has logged more than four million miles of travel, Asbury has seen plenty to lead him to the conclusion that the United States can do better — much better — in global commerce.

The world, he said, is clamoring for U.S. products but the United States needs to take a leadership role in promoting a more equitable world trading system, especially in light of the rising power of Asian nations that are laser-focused on economic success linked to international commerce.

“It’s not that American products aren’t competitive,” said Asbury, the chief executive of Weston-based The Legacy Cos. and the 2008 winner of the U.S. National Champion Exporter of the Year award.

While it’s true that labor costs are lower in many emerging economies, he pointed out that, “labor is less than 10 percent of overall manufacturing costs.

“Made-in-America still has a tremendous amount of equity in it,” Asbury added. “The problem is that the world trading system is corrupt and skewed against us. We don’t have access.”

But it doesn’t have to be that way, he said. And he wastes no opportunity to get that message out.

Asbury blogs, has a syndicated weekly radio program, The Neal Asbury Show, that can be heard locally on 880 AM The Biz, and frequently speaks on trade topics. Now he has written a book, Conscientious Equity: An American Entrepreneur’s Solutions to the World’s Greatest Problems.

He proposes a new way of conducting international business and presents his Conscientious Equity Accord, which he says will go a long way toward addressing economic instability, poverty, environmental devastation and corruption around the world.

Among the elements of the accord are: Strong guidelines for labor rights that will protect all workers; a commitment to fighting corruption; stringent environmental protections; intellectual property safeguards; access to foreign markets for American exporters under the same rules and conditions the United States grants other countries; and rules of law that will make such principles enforceable globally.

“We all have to take a step back and look at the greater good,” he said.

Asbury’s wide-ranging business interests include operating a company that represents American manufacturers in the commercial food industry in more than 100 countries as well as owning firms that make commercial and home appliances such as Omega juicers and blenders.

At a Fort Pierce plant, he makes the Zeroll, the iconic streamlined ice cream scoop with liquid inside.

Asbury took some time away from his busy career to discuss international business in a recent telephone conversation with The Miami Herald:

Q: How troublesome is the undervalued Chinese yuan, which makes Chinese goods lower-priced and more competitive, when it comes to the U.S. trade deficit?

Currency manipulation in China is a huge deal. The Chinese are fighting tooth and nail to protect their competitive advantage. Chinese consumers love American products but they just are not available. The Chinese government is keeping them away from them.

As an American exporter, I can say our sales in China — without the currency differential — would be remarkably better.

China’s trade surplus with the United States will be about $280 billion this year. But China alone is responsible for perhaps $300 billion in intellectual property theft. Here we are allowing China complete access to our market while they’re ripping off U.S. entrepreneurs with impunity.

Q: How do you fight corruption in international business? It seems so pervasive in some countries.

Americans have not placed enough value on our economy and our marketplace. It has incredible power. Foreign governments know access to the American market is incredibly important. For those who are corrupt, you can send a message through proper diplomatic channels. You deal with corruption by allowing [corrupt individuals, companies and rulers] to continue to buy our products but you cut off these despots from selling their products to us.

Q. Do you think President Obama’s stated goal of doubling U.S. exports over the next five years under the U.S. Export Initiative is realistic?

For many reasons I don’t think we’re going to get there. It’s not just that we need better export promotion, it’s that access for U.S. products needs to be improved. There isn’t the vision to make it happen. I’m afraid the whole thing is just going to fizzle.

Q: So what needs to be done in Washington to improve our export performance?

There are 22 government agencies in Washington that handle some aspect of international trade. It’s a dysfunctional government structure. We need to create a Department of Global Commerce [within in the U.S. government] headed by a Secretary of Global Commerce with extensive international business experience.

Q: Do you have political aspirations?

I don’t see myself as a politician at this point. I just like to get out in the marketplace and share ideas. That’s good enough for me.

Q: How did you come up with the title of your book, Conscientious Equity?

I was lying in bed racking my brain and looking at various words in the dictionary when I hit on conscientious because it is the right thing to do and then equity — in this case meaning we all have ownership in doing the right thing. The idea is there is a way for all good people to do business freely and fairly.

Q: What are your thoughts about the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba in the context of conscientious equity?

It’s well past the time for the embargo to end. I’m against all embargoes because they don’t change the behavior of rogue regimes. I believe many in the Cuban community realize the embargo is a failed policy. The Cubans are getting what they want from other sources. The ones getting hurt are the American entrepreneurs who can’t sell to Cuba.

Miami Herald Article

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