Obama Orders Cabinet to Spearhead Export Drive

Feb. 4, 2010
Plan is to double U.S. exports in five years and create 2 million jobs

President Barack Obama, facing pressure to boost jobs to help an economic revival, unveiled a broad initiative on Feb. 4 to pry open foreign markets for U.S. exports, targeting emerging economies like China, India and Brazil.

Under a plan to double U.S. exports in five years, a comprehensive strategy will be developed to identify markets for fast-growing sectors such as environmental goods and services, renewable energy, healthcare and biotechnology, officials said.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, releasing details of the new National Export Initiative, said Obama ordered a cabinet level group to oversee the strategy with a vigorous effort to remove trade barriers and make accessible export financing to U.S. firms.

"This initiative will correct an economic blind spot that has allowed other countries to slowly chip away at the United States' international competitiveness," Locke said.

Obama's export drive is aimed at helping create two million jobs in the United States, still reeling from double digit unemployment that threatens to dampen its economic recovery. The new policy will see the creation of an "export promotion cabinet" reporting to the president, including leaders of the Commerce, State and Agriculture departments and the office of the U.S. Trade Representative. The move "represents the first time the United States will have a government-wide export promotion strategy with focused attention from the president and his cabinet," Locke said.

U.S. exports for the first 11 months of last year amounted to $1.411 trillion, compared to $1.827 trillion for the whole of 2008. "But while the U.S. is a major exporter, we are underperforming," Locke said. "U.S. exports as a percentage of GDP are still well below nearly all of our major economic competitors."

Exports support nearly 10 million jobs in America and almost seven million jobs in manufacturing -- and manufacturing jobs pay on average 15% more than the average wage.

"And for every one billion dollars in exports, 6,250 manufacturing jobs are created or supported," Locke said.

Improving access to foreign markets will be key, he said, adding that the government will attempt to remove barriers preventing U.S. firms from getting "free and fair" access to foreign markets while pursuing "balanced and ambitious" free trade agreements.

Obama has vowed to get tougher on countries like China to open up their markets in "reciprocal ways" and ensure that currency rates are not designed to blunt American trade competitiveness.

Peter Morici, a business professor formerly chief economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission, said Obama should address the "fundamental issues -- the undervalued Chinese yuan and high tariffs, and other regulatory barriers that block U.S. exports in much of Asia."

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a top business lobby, welcomed the export drive and called for "translating these plans into action." "For too long, the United States has been standing on the sidelines while other nations are designing a new architecture for world trade," said chamber senior vice-president Myron Brilliant.

Obama has also called on the Export-Import Bank -- which provides critical financing when private banks are unwilling or unable to do so -- to increase the amount of funds available for small- and medium-size businesses from four billion to six billion dollars over the next year, Locke said.

Nearly $80 million in new funding will be provided to the Commerce Department's International Trade Administration (ITA), increasing its allocation to $540 million under the budget for the fiscal year beginning in October.

The additional resources will allow the ITA, which has a global network of trade specialists posted in 109 U.S. cities and at 128 U.S. embassies and consulates in 77 countries, to bring in more trade experts to serve as advocates for US companies.

They will facilitate "a special focus on increasing, the number of small and medium-sized businesses exporting to more than one market by 50% over the next five years," Locke said.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2010

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