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eBay Looks to Break Down Trade Barriers in Support of Micro Sellers

WASHINGTON – As it surveys its prospects for future growth, eBay is bullish on its plans to expand globally.

But opening up new markets for sellers in countries like Brazil, India and China requires some help from policymakers.

Brian Bieron, an old hand in Washington who now heads eBay’s Connected Commerce Policy Lab, recently described some of the challenges he faces in advocating on behalf of small sellers before lawmakers and members of the administration.

“Globalization is here, it’s not going away,” Bieron said in a presentation at the PostalVision 2020 conference.

The challenge then becomes, “How do you explain to folks that it is good?” Bieron said. “It tends to be politically unpopular everywhere.”

In the policy arena, eBay is often mentioned as a key player in debates over hot-button issues like network neutrality (for) and online sales taxes (against), but the company also devotes considerable resources to advocating in support of efforts to clear trade barriers and expand the flow of commerce into overseas markets.

Those issues have become a central theme of eBay’s annual Capitol Hill fly-in, when sellers from around the country converge on Washington for a series of meetings with their representatives in Congress, Bieron said. In those recent sessions, sellers have begun to talk enthusiastically about their designs on foreign markets.

“One year about three or four years ago all the talk was about selling to other countries,” Bieron said. “All of our sellers, it seemed, exported.”

Bieron, a veteran lobbyist and former Hill staffer with a deep background on trade issues, explained that much of his work involves reframing the discussion on how to support American small business. In the most general sense, backing small business is about as politically controversial as coming out in favor of apple pie and baseball, but the term itself tends to conjure the “500 person widget factory in South Carolina,” not the mom and pop team selling on eBay, Bieron said.

“Part of the goal in trade policy has been to open up new markets for those firms,” Bieron said. “That is not the world of a micro-business that is enabled by the Internet.”

So as Bieron and his team carry their message of the Internet’s transformative effect on commerce around Capitol Hill, they are arguing on behalf of policies they say will help the smallest of sellers, who no longer need a sprawling global infrastructure to reach customers in foreign markets.

To that end, eBay is lobbying to simplify customs procedures, especially for low-value parcels, promoting the harmonization of global delivery systems, and supporting the development of mobile payments systems.

Bieron talks about eBay’s role in promoting the “global empowerment network,” where an Internet-enabled platform levels many of the traditional logistical barriers to global commerce. What’s left after the technology is in place, eBay contends, are artificial barriers that policymakers can work to alleviate through legislation and cross-border trade agreements.

“If you want to sell stuff all over the world in a traditional way you have to be all over the world,” Bieron said.

“What is revolutionary is the ability to scale in a way that’s never been doable before at a super-low cost,” he added. “In the world that I come from, that just doesn’t happen.”

Kenneth Corbin on Linkedin
Kenneth Corbin
Kenneth Corbin
Kenneth Corbin is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. He has written on politics, technology and other subjects since 2007, most recently as the Washington correspondent for InternetNews.com, covering Congress, the White House, the FCC and other regulatory affairs. He can be found on LinkedIn.