Expanding Exports To Stimulate The Economy

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President Obama i

President Obama is joined by Commerce Secretary Gary Locke (left) and Boeing CEO Jim McNerney to announce the creation of the President's Export Council, and to talk about his administration's promotion of exports in an attempt to grow the economy and support jobs. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
President Obama

President Obama is joined by Commerce Secretary Gary Locke (left) and Boeing CEO Jim McNerney to announce the creation of the President's Export Council, and to talk about his administration's promotion of exports in an attempt to grow the economy and support jobs.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Obama's push to boost exports is showing signs of progress.

Foreign buyers are snapping up more pork chops and airplanes with the "Made in the USA" label. And that means more jobs for American farmers and manufacturers.

But analysts say it will take a more aggressive push to meet the president's goal of doubling exports within five years.

'Liberalizing Trade'

Obama's export initiative has a simple logic: 95 percent of the world's customers live outside the United States. So when this country is looking high and low for new job opportunities, it can't afford to ignore overseas markets.

"This isn't just about where jobs are today," Obama said at a news conference Wednesday. "This is where American jobs will be tomorrow."

Export-related jobs are particularly attractive to the president because they don't depend on this country's already overextended consumers. Obama has vowed not to return to old cycles of boom, bust, borrow and spend.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, the president's point man on exports, says it's designed to create about 2 million U.S. jobs over the next five years.

A Trade Rebound

Imports and exports have begun to recover from the lows of the economic downturn. In the first four months of this year, exports were up 17 percent from a year earlier.

A Trade Rebound

"This is stimulus we don't have to budget for," Kirk says. "This is a way to grow the economy and put Americans back to work by continuing to show leadership in liberalizing trade around the world."

In recent months, the president's export push has scored some concrete gains. Negotiators persuaded China to reopen its market to U.S. pork and convinced Russia to start buying U.S. chickens again. The Export-Import Bank has doubled financing to encourage foreign sales. And the Commerce Department has sponsored trade missions for more than 160 U.S. companies.

"And we're going to go to bat for everyone, from the largest corporation to the smallest business owner, with an idea that she wants to market and sell to the world," Obama said.

The Benefits Of Expansion

In the first four months of the year, exports were up by 17 percent from the same period of 2009. But that barely matches the level of exports before the recession.

On Wednesday, the president named 18 new members to his export advisory council, including CEO Scott Davis of UPS. Davis would love to see more cardboard boxes filling the backs of his company's big brown trucks.

"For every 22 packages that crosses a border, [it] creates another UPS job," Davis says. "So trade does create jobs in this country and around the world."

UPS and other shipping companies are actually helping to identify American firms that already export to just one other country. The thinking is that with a little encouragement, they might be able to do more.

"So it's essential that we educate the small and medium-sized enterprises about that opportunity, and then help them do the exporting," Davis says.

Dartmouth economist Matthew Slaughter applauds these moves. But, he says, it will take bigger policy changes to meet the president's target of doubling exports by 2015.

Last month, Obama announced plans to revive a long-stalled free trade agreement with South Korea. And Wednesday, he suggested that Colombian and Panamanian trade deals could come off the back burner as well.

'We're All In It Together'

Slaughter, who was an adviser to former President George W. Bush, says those moves are bound to be more controversial than simply acting as an export cheerleader.

"Americans have long been ambivalent about greater engagement for the U.S. economy," he says. "And that's with good reason. Trade and other forms of globalization tend to generate very large gains for the United Sates overall. But those gains don't always accrue to every single worker and firm and community."

Obama himself often sounded ambivalent about trade during the Democratic primary campaign. Departing from his prepared text on Wednesday, he said he hopes to escape what he called a "false political debate."

"The argument was either you were pro-trade or you were anti-trade," he said. "What we now have an opportunity to do is to refocus attention where we're all in it together."

The president said he'll continue to press for a level playing field. In competing for jobs with other countries, he said, the U.S. cannot play for second place.

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