Althea Erickson (@altheaerickson) is Etsy’s public policy director and Technocrat chatted with her about Etsy’s sellers and trade laws, among other topics. For more on Technocrat’s talk with Erickson about her work on net neutrality and other policy issues, see Part One of the Q&A.
Q: And on the issue of trade I noticed that Etsy earlier this summer released a paper on policy proposals for the maker economy and one of them was on this issue of trade laws. And it mentioned that trade laws haven’t kept up with the peer-to-peer marketplaces and it calls for a number of actions like setting a universal exemption for customs that have a monetary value that’s lower than a certain amount. So can you tell me more about that and what you mean about the trade laws not keeping up with the peer-to- peer maker economy?
A: Absolutely, so the trade laws… were designed for bigger businesses and the idea of sort of an export community. You know, when you talk about facilitating trade for small businesses, people tend to focus on helping small companies break into new markets, and develop distribution channels and all of that.
But what we find with our sellers is they’re already in a global marketplace. There are buyers all over the world that are buying their goods and so what happens is somebody purchases their good from another country and then they face the challenge of figuring out how to ship it to them, complying with local trade laws, figuring out what the customs and duties requirements are for each country, and that’s very challenging.
Already, most countries have… a customs exemption under which goods of a certain value are exempt. We’d just like to see that level raised to exempt most peer-to-peer transactions and also made the same across country, so our sellers don’t have to be looking up every country for whatever their rate is. So for example, in the U.S. the exemption is set at $200. In Canada and the U.K., it translates to roughly $20.
Q: And you also mentioned sellers are facing regulatory burdens. Can you unpack that a little bit? Are you talking about any specific regulations?
A: Well, it really depends on what they’re making and where they’re selling. But I think the broader point is that there are lots of different product regulations out there, or regulations around how to hire people and that those are often very difficult for our sellers to find or learn about.
And so, you know … we’ve been working for example with the small business ombudsman at the Consumer Product Safety Commission to help them think about how to conduct outreach and education in a way that helps our sellers understand what the product regulations are that apply to their [products]
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