NFTC Celebrates Centennial World Trade Dinner
"The NFTC Story" Artwork
NFTC 100 Historic Timeline
Centennial Events
Honors and Awards
Past NFTC Presidents and Chairmen
This Week in Trade History
President Woodrow Wilson Address
Founding Members (1914)
NFTC Convention 1914 Attendees


The NFTC Story

As the brutal winter of 1913-14 drew to a close, the nation's first Secretary of Commerce, William Cox Redfield, had a brilliant insight that would profoundly impact the US and world economies for the remainder of the 20st Century. Linking together in his mind two momentous yet unrelated events, he realized that the looming specter of war in Europe, coupled with the imminent opening of the Panama Canal, represented an unprecedented opportunity for US businesses –but only if they were prepared to seize it. War would distract European competitors for an untold length of time; and the Panama Canal would dramatically reduce shipping costs and time of transit. If US enterprise was ready, markets around the globe would be ripe for US exports. A future built on international trade was at hand.

With the blessing of President Woodrow Wilson, Secretary Redfield called for the very first National Foreign Trade Convention in the nation's history. On May 27, 1914, business and political leaders from across the country and across the economy gathered at the Raleigh Hotel in Washington DC. They heard from US Government officials and each other about the importance of international trade for the growth of their businesses, cities, and the American economy; the role of commercial diplomacy for advancing democratic values worldwide; and the need for the federal government to pursue policies for opening markets and ensuring fair, rules-based trade across the globe. The opportunities were boundless and the excitement of Conventioneers was palpable, especially in the East Room of the White House where they gathered to hear directly from President Wilson, who said, in part:
"There is nothing in which I am more interested than the fullest development of the trade of this country and its righteous conquest of foreign markets….I hope this is only the first of a series of conferences of this sort with you gentlemen, and I thank you for this opportunity."

Heeding the President's call, those attending immediately sprang into action. On May 28, 1914, by unanimous resolution, the National Foreign Trade Convention created a committee of industry and trade experts to convene future annual conventions, and "to coordinate the foreign trade activities of the nation" in conjunction with the government and other business organizations.

This committee of experts was dubbed the National Foreign Trade Council.

Thus, the NFTC was born.

Since that time, the NFTC has grown from its 30 founding members to include several hundred of the nation's leading international businesses, from every state and from every sector of the economy. We've grown to cover tax policy and international human resources issues, have expanded our trade focus to include highly technical topics such as economic sanctions and export controls, and embracing the newest 21st Century trade issues like digital trade flows. We've backed every major trade agreement the US has entered into, by organizing the business community and old fashioned shoe-leather advocacy on Capitol Hill. We've given critical industry feedback to draft legislation since the days of Smoot-Hawley (against!) and the Reciprocal Trade agreements Act (for!), through today's ongoing debate about Trade Promotion Authority (again, for!).

The legacy of NFTC accomplishments goes on and on, inexorably intertwined with the history of US trade policy and the growth of the global economy – Establishment of the US Merchant Marine. Support for chartering and reauthorizing the Export Import Bank. Technical advice for the administration of the Marshall Plan. The Cuba embargo. The Uruguay Round which established the WTO. Permanent Normal Trade Relations with Vietnam. Leading the Middle East Free Trade Coalition. Base Erosion/Profit Shifting (BEPS). China PNTR. FSC/ETI. The first survey of Expatriates on assignment. Opening of the Myanmar market.

Please take a few moments to explore here a sampling of the critical work of the NFTC over the years, which evoke the dedication of our members and staff who throughout a century of work have stood behind our guiding principles of free trade and open markets for economic growth, job creation, and a more stable, peaceful world.