Obama outlines plan to spur U.S. exports and jobs

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 11, 2010 

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Thursday laid out plans to help U.S. businesses double their export sales and add what he said would be 2 million more jobs at home during the next 5 years.

"In a time when millions of Americans are out of work, boosting our exports is a short-term imperative," Obama said in unveiling his National Export Initiative.

"When other markets are growing, and other nations are competing, we've got to get even better," he told the annual conference of the Export-Import Bank. "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."

Obama's plan would boost government efforts to help U.S. businesses, create new partnerships with shipping firms such as FedEx, and ease controls over the export of technology such as cell phones, which currently have to go through lengthy reviews to ensure that they don't compromise national security secrets.

Obama also strived anew to reassure Americans who are anxious about losing jobs to overseas competitors that pay lower wages and lure away U.S. factories, and he acknowledged some downsides to trade.

"If you ask the average American what trade has offered them, they won't say that their televisions are cheaper, or productivity is higher. They'd say they've seen the plant across town shut down, jobs dry up, communities deteriorate. And you can't blame them for feeling that way," he said.

"The fact is, other countries haven't always played by the same set of rules. America hasn't always enforced our trade rights, or made sure that the benefits of trade are broadly shared. And we haven't always done enough to help our workers adapt to a changing world."

Still, he insisted, "we've got to compete in the global marketplace."

He said his administration will enforce existing trade agreements to assure fair trade. He also said that his administration continues to negotiate with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea on trade agreements stalled by opposition from U.S. labor unions and their Democratic allies in Congress, but aides didn't point to any pending breakthroughs.

Among his plan's highlights:

  • Create an Export Promotion Cabinet that includes the secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, State and Treasury to focus administration efforts.
  • Appoint Boeing chief Jim McNerney and Xerox chief Ursula Burns to head a President's Export Council of outside experts to advise him.
  • Add $2 billion a year for loans from the Export-Import Bank to help businesses finance exports.
  • Launch more trade missions to other countries. As a start, Obama said he'd use a trip next week to Indonesia and Australia to pitch trade with U.S. companies. "I will be a strong and steady advocate for our workers and companies abroad," he said.
  • Set up one-stop shops at all 250 U.S. embassies and consulates where U.S. businesses can get help from all government agencies and departments.
  • Order ambassadors to stress "commercial diplomacy" and then to tour the U.S. when they return home to tell businesses here about opportunities abroad.
  • Create a New Market Exporter Initiative with shipping giants such as FedEx, UPS and the Postal Service to help exporters reach new countries.
  • Bring up to 300 procurement officers from other countries here to meet with U.S. companies.
  • Speed approval of exports of technology that's reviewed for national security, eliminating the review for about 2,800 of 3,300 applications a year and cutting the wait time from as many as 60 days to 30 minutes.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce responded with a call for a similar five-step program including new trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea; enforcing existing trade pacts; expanding the limits on certain technologies under national security export controls; resisting protectionism; and promoting exports.

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