Global Ecommerce August 26, 2019

Etsy sellers are at the heart of international trade

Etsy seller Paula Barnett testifies before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee (Photo courtesy of U.S. Senate Photographic Studio)

Just before the August recess, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on the new trade agreement between the United States, Mexico, and Canada (USMCA), and Etsy sellers had a seat at the table. We are so proud of Oregonian Etsy seller, Paula Barnett, who was invited to testify before the Committee and share her story about being a microbusiness owner, a mom, and an international exporter in her own right.

Why the USMCA? It may not be obvious, but many elements of the trade deal would help Etsy sellers ship their goods across borders. In particular, Paula spoke about how the deal would help her ship more goods into Canada and Mexico (thanks to higher de minimis customs exemptions), as well as the importance of preserving the U.S. de minimis customs exemption at its current level of $800. She also spoke in favor of the digital trade provisions of the USMCA, for example allowing the free flow of information across borders or enabling digital transactions, which help her online business reach a global customer base.

Paula is a self taught fine jeweler living in Brownsville, Oregon with her nine-year-old daughter. When Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) invited her to share her story on one of the biggest stages on the Hill, she says she was both “empowered and terrified.” As she said in her testimony, it may have been surprising to find a business of one testifying before Congress about a multilateral trade agreement, but her story is at the heart of the issue. “Like many Etsy sellers,” she said, “I made my goods available to international buyers from the moment I opened my Etsy shop.” Roughly 20% of Paula’s sales are international, and she’s had plenty of experiences of her custom engagement rings getting stuck at the border because of trade laws that have not kept pace with the changing peer-to-peer commerce landscape.

Paula shared the stage with some of the United States’ biggest industry leaders, including representatives from the dairy and auto industries, and a leader in organized labor. When asked what testifying before the Senate Finance Committee was like, she said, “I was the only woman on the panel, which felt awesome and a little strange. Ranking Member Wyden and Chairman Grassley gave me an extremely warm welcome, and Senator Wyden was most enthused to have a small business owner from his home state of Oregon.”

Paula was the first witness to testify, and she said she was a bit nervous. However, she did an excellent job bringing these big issues of international trade to an individual level, and really showed how impactful these policies can be on a creative entrepreneur. Reflecting on her experience in the Capital, she said, “I’m more than proud of myself for taking this opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone, and to have a seat at the table in policymaking that affects microbusinesses like mine. Being able to share my story with Congress, and with the world, has given me a much needed boost and really allowed me to believe in myself. I hope my story moved the Senate Finance Committee, and that they take my words into consideration when considering the USMCA.”

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Witnesses for the July 30th hearing (Photo courtesy of U.S. Senate Photographic Studio)
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Paula and Senator Wyden after their meeting

After Paula’s testimony, Senator Wyden’s staff took her on a whirlwind tour of the Capitol Building, and Paula and the Senator got the opportunity to meet and discuss their mutual love of the Oregon Coast.

As Congress continues to debate the USMCA, we hope they keep Paula’s testimony in mind. She brought to light the importance of creating certainty around de minimis customs thresholds so her handmade wares can travel seamlessly across borders, and she can focus on doing what she loves.

Are you an Etsy seller interested in an in-person opportunity to share your story with policymakers? Volunteer using this form and we’ll get in touch, should an opportunity arise.

  • Economic Impact
  • Microbusiness
  • Senate
  • trade
Althea Erickson

Althea Erickson