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Software founder: Small firms need U.S. trade muscle in China, India

BrickSimple's Det Ansinn on why Obama needs Trade Promotion Authority and the Trans Pacific Partnership

Det Ansinn wants a piece of the rising China and India markets for his Doylestown-based, 13-year-old, 30-employee  "Internet of Things" software applications development firm, BrickSimple. So Ansinn -- who is also the Council President of Doylestown borough, and a Democrat -- went to Washington on Wednesday, invited by the corporate-backed D.C. group Business Forward, which brings small-business owners together with officials of federal programs that are supposed to boost business and trade.

"We are facing a level of digital protectionism," both from other countries -- and inside the U.S., Ansinn told me. "There are countries, there are industries, where they want you to host your service and your data in those countries. It's like the issue of Net neutrality in the United States: We want access to those markets, on digital trade routes, which we need to maintain."

BrickSimple has built and sold a Web applications platform (2008) and an Xbox live-gamers app (2011, to Galaxy for Gamers.) Now the firm, with satellite offices in San Francisco and Myrtle Beach, is building apps for smartphones, smartwatches, Google Glass, with applications for smart consumer and industrial devices (the Internet of Things). "We have done work abroad, exporting services and projects. We are getting a lot of enquiries from abroad."

Ansinn is concerned that small U.S. firms like his face unequal competition from "protectionist" countries. Meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman on Wednesday, he came away believing the Trade Promotion Authority and Trans Pacific Partnership the Obama administration supports present a "wholistic policy" that will help negotiate "market access" for the whole range of U.S. companies. "There are something like 500 million middle-class consumers in Asia today. In 15 years it will be more than 3 billion. That's a great thing; it's also terrifying, when you think about our role in the world economy."

I reminded him that both leftist and right-wing critics are deeply suspicious of these trade agreements, which they fear will pressure small manufacturers to move more jobs abroad.

But Ansinn says the big trade deals give firms like his "a seat at the table. We are sitting on our hands if we are not engaged. other nations are doing it. We can't be protecting ourselves away from opportunities that exists in the marketplace."

I asked Ansinn if he also suports the Export-Import Bank, which some conservative Republicans have sworn to kill. "Just look at the scale of what we're competing with," he told me. China telecom manufacturer "Huawei did $50 million worth of business in India three years ago, it's now $3 billion, because the Chinese government provided tens of millions in capital to win that market. ExIm helps keep us on a level playing field."

Can't U.S. banks -- say Wells Fargo, or PNC -- do what ExIm does? Ansinn says small  firms like his get little attention from the big commercial banks that handle most trade finance. If the U.S. doesn't engage world trade mechanisms, "we will be left out," he added. "I fear, if we are not focused and thinking more globally, we will be marginalized, the way the U.K. became marginalized" and lost its place as a world power.