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Remarks From Gary Locke

US Secretary of Commerce talks about the National Exports Initiative

eTN Staff Writer  Feb 07, 2010

If you consider that tourism is an export, President Obama’s National Export Initiative should be of importance to the industry, as this initiative will keep the president and his cabinet’s attention as an important means to boosting America’s economy. Here are excerpts of remarks about this initiative made by Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke:

In last week’s State of the Union address, President Obama announced a series of new proposals that will help put Americans back to work and our nation on a path to sustainable economic growth. A key element in helping to meet that goal is a new National Export Initiative (NEI), which aims to double American exports over the next five years and support two million jobs here at home. What sets this effort apart is that this is the first time the United States will have a government-wide, export-promotion strategy with focused attention from the President and his Cabinet.

This initiative will correct an economic blind spot that has allowed other countries to chip away at America’s international competitiveness. Because for all of America's economic strengths, we stand out among developed nations as one of the few whose government does not have a focused, comprehensive, and agile export strategy. At a time when traditional drivers of US economic growth like consumer and business spending are strained, we simply must elevate exports as a key part of our economic recovery efforts.

Prior to the NEI, export promotion may have been a “some of the time” focus for many US cabinet agencies and departments. The NEI makes it an “all-the-time focus.”

Today, far too many Americans are having trouble doing what we’ve typically taken for granted - paying the mortgage, sending our children to college, or saving for retirement. The fundamental American assumption that our lives will be better than our parents’ and our children’s lives better still, has been shaken. From the advent of the phone, to the automobile, to new drug therapies and the Internet, America’s strength has always been its peoples’ ability to create and sell products and services that help others around the world lead healthier, wealthier and more productive lives.

While the US is a major exporter, we are underperforming. US exports as a percentage of GDP are still well below nearly all of our major economic competitors. With our increasingly interconnected world - where 95 percent of consumers reside outside our borders - these are opportunities American companies cannot afford to miss.

In this globalized economy, companies from every corner of the world are competing like never before for business in foreign markets, especially in emerging economies like China, India, and Brazil. American companies need advocates on the ground that will fight for their interests. That means leading trade missions and working to educate companies in the United States about opportunities abroad. But it’s also the US government pounding the pavement alongside US companies to drum up business. For example, even large US companies with well-developed contacts in foreign countries are finding that procurement decisions are increasingly being impacted by political factors. With massive infrastructure projects planned all over the world, this represents billions of dollars in potential business. The National Export Initiative will help by giving senior American officials traveling abroad a second job description: advocate and salesperson for US companies and products.

The Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration (or ITA) will be escalating its already substantial efforts. ITA has a global network of trade specialists posted in 109 US cities and at 128 US embassies and consulates in 77 countries. The President’s 2011 budget is requesting a 20 percent increase for ITA – totaling US$78 million. ITA’s efforts are going to be focused on the small- and medium-size businesses that represent the biggest source of untapped export potential in the United States. Last year, ITA helped nearly 5,600 companies increase their exports and 85 percent of those were small- and medium-size businesses.

A new Commerce Department initiative in 2010 will enable ITA to connect with even more of these businesses. In the coming months, we’ll be launching a virtual CommerceConnect Web site, which will serve as a portal for businesses to access the full array of Commerce Department and other federal government services available to them. For small business owners, many of whom aren’t close to an International Trade office, or who previously didn't think they had the time or resources to partner with the federal government, this will be a particularly valuable tool.

As we work to connect our exporters to more customers abroad, it’s also crucial to address the second priority issue we tackle under the NEI, and that is access to credit. Although our financial system has weathered the crisis of 2009, lending is still restricted, especially for small businesses. As part of the National Export Initiative, the president has called upon the Export-Import Bank - which provides critical financing to US companies when private banks are unwilling or unable - to increase its financing available for small- and medium-size businesses from US$4 billion to US$6 billion over the next year. During the last three months alone, the bank has authorized US$1 billion in small business financings and added 112 new small business clients - many of whom were first-time exporters - that are selling everything from nanotechnology-based cosmetics to date palm trees to sophisticated polymers to 45 countries around the world. To make businesses better aware of these funding opportunities for their international sales, Export-Import is going to expand its work with banking and brokerage partners, grow its road show program to 16 cities, and deepen its partnership with the Small Business Administration so their field staffs are better versed in their offerings. And Export-Import’s increased activity will dovetail with the administration’s other credit expansion efforts, including President Obama’s recent proposal to redirect US$30 billion in repaid TARP loans to boost lending to small businesses.

Finally, the National Export Initiative is going to sharpen the government's focus on the barriers that prevent US companies from getting free and fair access to foreign markets. The Office of the United States Trade Representative is working towards an ambitious and balanced Doha Round that provides our exporters new market access opportunities. And USTR is going to be opening markets in key growth areas such as Asia with the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)—an agreement that could set a new standard for trade agreements with strong labor, environmental and market access standards. At the same time, USTR will improve enforcement of existing international trade law and address the outstanding concerns we have with pending free trade agreements.

The United States is the most open major economy in the world... and that’s not going to change! But that commitment is coupled with an ongoing focus to ensure the competitiveness of US companies in foreign markets. Free trade only works in a system of rules where all parties live up to their obligations. The United States is committed to a rules-based trading system where the American people – and the Congress – can feel confident that when we sign an agreement that gives foreign countries the privilege of free and fair access to our domestic market, we are treated the same in their countries. That means: enforcing our trade laws; combating unfair tariff and non-tariff barriers; and cracking down on practices that blatantly harm US companies.

The message I want to send to all these companies that are struggling to find customers, or to hire new people, or to increase the hours of their workers is this: Look abroad. There are opportunities there. And the National Export Initiative is a clear signal that the Obama administration is committed to helping you find it.

US Secretary of Commerce talks about the National Exports Initiative
US Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke / Image via

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