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Washington Outlook Archive

Obama Outlines International Trade Agenda

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

After weeks of talking in generalities, President Barack Obama has unveiled his strategy for attempting to double exports over the next five years and create 2 million jobs.

The far-reaching program calls for financial assistance to companies wishing to export, knocking down overseas barriers to trade and ordering a number of federal agencies with direct or indirect involvement in trade to focus their efforts on how they can help achieve the president's goals. Obama's proposals say little about problems with imports faced by textile and other industries, except to say overseas countries must "play by the rules" of international trade, and that countries that have a large trade surplus with the United States, such as China, should be encouraged to place less emphasis on exporting and more on domestic consumption.

Obama calls his National Export Initiative "an ambitious effort to marshal the full resources of the United States government behind American businesses that sell their goods and services abroad." He issued an executive order instructing the federal government to use "every available resource in support of the mission," and he created an Export Promotion Cabinet made up of the Secretaries of State, Treasury, Agriculture, Commerce and Labor along with the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), the Small Business Administration, the Export Import Bank and other senior officials. He also reactivated the President's Export Council, which has been the principal national advisory committee on international trade.

Calling for export promotion initiatives throughout his administration, Obama said, for example, that Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke is issuing guidance to all senior government officials who have foreign counterparts on how they can best promote exports, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is developing a "commercial diplomacy strategy," directing every U.S. embassy to create a senior visitors business liaison who "will manage our export advocacy efforts overseas and when ambassadors return home they will be expected to travel the country to discuss export opportunities in their countries of assignment." He said the Department of Commerce will sponsor more than 40 trade fairs this year.

Pointing out that many businesses do not have the resources to identify new markets or set up shop, Obama said he is planning to increase funding to set up "one-stop shops"  across the country and in 250 embassies and consulates abroad to help businesses gain a foothold in the most promising markets for exports. He said more funds will be available from the Export-Import Bank to make loans to small and medium-size companies to help them enter new exports markets.

Obama said USTR Ron Kirk has been doing an "extraordinary job" and that he will continue working to knock down trade barriers that he said "unfairly keep American companies from markets we belong in."  On the day after the president announced his program, Kirk met with leaders of the U.S. apparel and footwear industries in Washington, and emphasized the importance of eliminating trade barriers and gaining greater overseas market access. He also discussed the administration's efforts to combat counterfeiting and piracy of U.S. designs. He said that protection of intellectual property rights is "critical to our future product development."

Both Kirk and the president called for congressional approval of free trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea, for negotiation of a Trans-Pacific Partnership and for renewed efforts to bring about a successful conclusion to the Doha Round of trade negotiations, all of which they believe are key elements in the program to expand exports.

Looking at the overall global trade picture, Obama said: "I know the issue of imports and exports, the issue of trade and globalization, have long involved passions of a lot of people in this country. I know there are differences of opinion between Democrats and Republicans, differences between business and labor about the right approach. But I also know we are at a moment where it is absolutely necessary for us to get beyond those debates."

March 16, 2010