Obama Calls for US to ‘Up Our Game’ on Exports

By Matt Loffman

Mar 11, 2010 1:06pm

From Sunlen Miller and Karen Travers:

Calling on the United States to "up our game," President Obama today pledged again to double America's exports over the next five years, as first called for in his State of the Union address.

“We shouldn’t assume our leadership is guaranteed,” Obama said in front of the Export-Import Bank’s conference, “When other markets are growing, and other nations are competing, we need to get even better.  We need to secure our companies a level playing field.  We need to guarantee American workers a fair shake.  In other words, we need to up our game.”

The president addressed the group’s annual conference in Washington, DC to outline initial steps his administration is taking to achieve that goal within what the administration is dubbing the “National Export Initiative.”

This morning the president signed an Executive Order creating an Export Promotion Cabinet – made up of the Secretaries of State, Treasury, Agriculture, Commerce and Labor, the U.S. Trade Representative, Small Business Administrator, the Export-Import Bank President, and other senior U.S. officials – to support the effort. That cabinet will convene its first meeting next month and will make recommendations to the president going forward.

The president also re-launched the President’s Export Council – the national advisory committee on international trade and Jim McNerney, the President and CEO of Boeing, as its chair; and Ursula Burns, the CEO of Xerox, as vice chair.

The first three aims of the National Export Initiative would to increase financing, advocacy and assistance for American businesses.

“We’ll substantially increase access to trade financing for businesses that want to export their goods but just need a boost – especially small businesses and medium-sized businesses,” Obama said.

He added he would “go to bat” for American businesses and workers, promising to lead this effort personally as president, starting with his trip to Indonesia and Australia next week.

“In both countries, I will highlight the role that American business plays there, and underscore how strong economic partnerships can create jobs on both sides of the Pacific while advancing both regional – and global – prosperity.”

The president also said they will “unleash a battery of comprehensive and coordinated efforts” to promote new markets and opportunities for American exporters.

“We’ll provide a comprehensive toolkit of services – from financing to counseling to promotion – to help potential exporters grow and expand. We’ll create public-private partnerships to help firms break into new markets with the help of those who have been there – shipping and supply-chain companies, for example. And we’ll increase funding for existing promotion efforts.”

Lastly the president said American companies must have free and fair access to markets – and that the US must enforce trade agreements already on the books.

“When when we give other countries the privilege of that free and fair access, we can expect it in return.  That’s the spirit in which we’ll move forward.  We’ll continue to work towards an ambitious and balanced Doha agreement – not just for the sake of any agreement, but for one that enhances market access for American agriculture, goods, and services.  We’ll strengthen relations with key partners like South Korea, Panama, and Colombia, with the goal of moving forward with existing agreements in a way that upholds our values.”

Analysts say that achieving this goal without enacting any of the outstanding free trade agreements will be difficult and don’t see any substantial commitment from the White House to push those deals to completion.

During an appearance on ABC News’ “Top Line" last month, Fred Hochberg, chairman of the Export-Import Bank, played down the significance of stalled trade agreements with Columbia, South Korea, and Panama as an impediment to spurring job growth through doubling US exports.

“The free trade agreements are important and he’s certainly signaled his support for that, but we can double exports, they are not the barrier or the impediment to doubling exports,” Hochberg said of the pending trade agreements.

During his speech today Mr. Obama acknowledged that the issue of trade has long evoked “passions” and there are large differences in opinion between Democrats, Republicans and business and labor.

“I also know we’re at a moment where it is absolutely necessity for us to get beyond those old debates.  Those who would once support every trade agreement now see that other countries have to play fair and agreements have to be enforced.  Otherwise putting America at a profound disadvantage. Those who once would once oppose any trade agreement now understand that there are new markets and new sectors out there we need to break into if we want our workers to get ahead.”

-Sunlen Miller and Karen Travers

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