Vice President and Senior Counsel, GE International Law and Policy
- How do you see the relationship between GE’s approach to public policy engagement and sustainability?
Sustainability is really the touchstone of our policy engagement. GE has been in business for about 120 years, and hopefully will be for as long again. Our approach to public policy is equally long-term. We look for solutions that will stand the test of time.
For example, we have been a leading advocate of a multilateral free trade agreement on environmental goods and services to facilitate the flow of clean technologies globally. We know this will take time. But we believe that over the long-term, a multilateral agreement provides the best chance of creating the kind of durable, predictable regime needed to address the challenge. Our commitment to sustainability is also evident in our work to promote rule of law — strengthening legal, administrative and judicial systems internationally. GE benefits from those efforts, but often only after many years, and often indirectly as they help to build the strength of nations and their economies.
- What is GE’s position on Intellectual Property Rights, a key issue for developing countries and climate change?
We believe strong intellectual property protections and enforcement go hand-in-hand with development and will be critical to addressing climate change. Solving the world’s biggest problems, whether in healthcare, transport, water or energy, demands technological innovation. Such innovation, in turn, depends on encouraging and protecting intellectual property. It’s no coincidence that the development of strong IPR regimes has historically accompanied innovation, growth and development.
There are clearly challenges in ensuring that much-needed technologies are available in poorer countries that cannot afford their share of the development costs. That is why, for example, we have supported the idea of an international fund as part of any global climate deal that would help subsidize the cost difference between dirty and clean technology for the least developed countries.
- How can stakeholders be reassured that GE’s policy advocacy is consistent with your public sustainability face?
Ensuring consistency of a public policy message is a challenge for any large, global organization — particularly a company like GE that consists of fairly autonomous subsidiary businesses operating in more than 100 countries. You can’t underestimate the challenges that time zones alone pose! Hard-wired, global policy positions do not always work out. Policy positions may need to be adjusted to address the needs of a particular jurisdiction.
That said, I think GE is pretty good about making clear some of its fundamental public policy commitments — for example, to environmentally sustainable solutions, to free and fair international trade and commerce, to the promotion of technology and innovation in the quest to build a better world, and to transparency and the rule of law. These are “True North” positions that flow down from our leadership and permeate the company’s day-to-day activities, as well as its public policy engagement.
- What information should stakeholders ask for about businesses’ public policy engagement and reasonably expect to get?
Frankly, it is not easy for GE to hide, given our scope and size. And we are quite transparent. Our written submissions to many governments are publicly available, particularly in developed countries, where public submissions are often provided on web sites. Comparable mechanisms and systems are a little less prevalent in developing countries, but even there, we often make our positions public, for example in the ‘Our Viewpoints’ section of GE’s web site.
- How do you think GE compares to other companies on in its public policy advocacy?
When I joined GE two years ago after serving in government, I felt that it had one of the most statesman-like approaches to public policy of any company. I still believe that — but I think I understand it a little better now. It derives, at least in part, from the fact that the company is so big and so diversified that we reflect the global economy and tend to support what’s good for it as a whole. We are less concerned than other companies with special interests in one product line, one sector or even one country or region. To succeed, GE needs stable governments, open markets, healthy economic growth, and peace and security. Then we will do just fine.