News Analysis: White House ramps up push for more exports

09:08, January 30, 2011      

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The White House is ratcheting up a campaign to boost U.S. exports in a bid to help improve the American economy as the country climbs out of the worst recession since the 1930s.

In Tuesday's State of the Union address, President Barack Obama renewed the call first heard a year ago to double American exports over the next five years.

On Thursday, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced that cabinet members this year would fan out across the U.S. in a bid to encourage small businesses to increase their international trade footprints.

On the same day, Commerce Under Secretary for International Trade Francisco J. Sanchez spoke to mark the first anniversary of Obama's call for more exports and said the United States is on track to meet its trade goals.

So far, trade numbers have seen improvement -- exports rose through November to nearly 17 percent compared to 2009, Sanchez said at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington.

If exports continue to increase at that clip, the United States would more than double its export numbers since a year ago.

IS OBAMA SERIOUS ABOUT TRADE?

The new momentum in the drive to boost exports comes not long after the president took a self-described "shellacking" in November's mid-term elections. Analysts say he is trying to follow in the steps of former U.S. President Bill Clinton by moving to the middle and using trade as one issue on which he and Republicans can agree.

Some critics, however, have expressed skepticism. They charge the president with putting trade on a backburner during a deep recession while he tackled a myriad of unrelated issues over the last two years.

Indeed, trade deals with Panama, Colombia and South Korea have awaited Congressional approval since the last administration.

Others lament that multilateral trade negotiations that started in Doha, Qatar, several years ago have seen no significant breakthroughs since Obama delivered last year's State of the Union address.

In an effort to reverse the sentiments of critics who have billed him -- rightly or wrongly -- as "anti-business," Obama has in recent weeks engaged in a flurry of activity.

The president has toured factories, made speeches about the economy and appointed JP Morgan executive William Daley as his next chief of staff and former Wall Street consultant Gene Sperling as director of the National Economic Council. He has also tapped General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt to head the newly created Council on Jobs and Competitiveness

CRITICS BLAST CONGRESS FOR 'SITTING ON ITS HANDS'

Bill Lane, Washington director for government affairs for Caterpillar, expressed concern that Congress is not acting with enough urgency.

In a panel discussion at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, he called for a tripling of U.S. exports over the next five years.

"But to do that, you have to have a sense of urgency," he said.

Lane expressed disappointment that U.S. trade agreements have sat on the table for years.

As a result, the United States has sat on the sidelines while major trade deals have been signed between Asian countries such as India, China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Lane said.

Chris Garza, senior director of Congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the U.S. is beginning to see market losses in some countries because competitors got there first.

Pointing to trade relations with the ROK as an example, he said the United States saw wine exports to that country take a nose dive during the last decade.

From 2000 to 2009, wine exports plunged from 17.1 percent to 10.8 percent. The reverse, however, happened for Chile over the same time period, as the South American nation ramped up its wine exports to the ROK from 2.4 percent to 21.5 percent, he said during the discussion.

"And why? Chile has a free trade agreement...with Korea," he said. "Chile has beaten us into the market."

U.S. agricultural products have also lost market share in Colombia, he said.

"These are real losses. This isn't some hypothetical situation of what could happen. It's happening to us now," he said. "Our biggest fear is that the longer we wait, the more market share we are going to lose."

At a hearing Tuesday, House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp. R-Mich, urged the president to submit to Congress agreements with Panama, Colombia and the ROK in the next six months.

Sanchez said he is confident that the administration would be able to get a bill on the ROK to Congress soon.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that legal language for a U.S.-ROK trade deal has been finalized, and Congressional debate could begin as early as March.

The United States negotiated a major trade deal with the ROK in December, but it has not yet gone to Congress for approval.

ECONOMY GROWING, BUT NOT FAST ENOUGH

While the economy has been recovering and corporate profits and the stock market have surged, jobs have not been added at a rate fast enough to put a significant dent in the jobless rate.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis announced Friday that gross domestic product increased 3.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010 from the previous quarter, falling slightly short of analysts' forecasts of 3.5 percent. Still, the rise from last quarter's 2.6 percent is a welcome development, analysts said.

Source: Xinhua

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