National Press Club

Commerce Sec'y Announces Details of Obama's Export Initiative

February 4, 2010 | By Bill Miller |

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Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, speaking at a Luncheon Feb. 4, announced a three-point plan to implement President Obama’s goal of doubling the nation’s exports over five years to $3 trillion a year.

Calling the United States one of the few developed nations that does not have a “focused, comprehensive and agile” strategy to boost oversales sales, Locke said the new National Export Initiative marks the first time the nation “will have a government-wide export-promotion strategy with focused attention from the president and his cabinet.”

Prior to the initiative, he said, export promotion "may have been a 'some of the time’ focus for U.S. cabinet agencies and departments. The NEI makes it an ‘all the time’ focus.”

Locke, the first Chinese-American to serve in the cabinet, described three key elements of NEI:

  • A “more robust effort” to expand trade advocacy, especially for small- and medium-sized companies.
  • Improved access to credit to firms that want to export.
  • Rigorous enforcement on international trade laws to help remove barriers that hinder access to foreign markets.

Among steps to broaden trade advocacy, Locke said, is Obama’s call in the 2011 for a 28% increase in Commerce’s International Trade Administration. Included is funding for 328 new trade experts, primarily located overseas to find customers for U.S. companies.

ITA also will put special emphasis, he said, on increasing the number of U.S. exporters (58%) that sell to only one foreign market.

To improve credit access, Locke said, Obama has asked the Export-Import Bank, which provides financing for U.S. companies unable to get it privately, to boost its financing pool for small- and medium-sized companies from $4 billion to $6 billion a year.

As for trade-law enforcement, Locke pledged that the United States will combat unfair tariff and non-tariff barriers. He singled out foreign theft of intellectual property, pointing out that American firms – primarily those in energy, technology, entertainment and pharmaceuticals – lose between $200 billion and $250 billion a year to counterfeiting and piracy.

Locke said in answer to a question that the five-year goal of doubling exports, announced in Obama’s State of the Union message, “is an aggregate goal” rather than one applying to each industry sector. “We’re confident we can reach it,” he said, although he admitted that much depends on getting the U.S. and world economies “back on their feet.”

He also said that the administration has set its export goals “irrespective of the value of the dollar.” NEI’s focus, he emphasized, “is on better matchmaking” of U.S. products and services to foreign market opportunities.

Locke outlined steps, including new legislation, to increase the number of foreign visitors to the U.S. “Foreign tourists actually are considered an export,” he said.

Besides its foreign trade responsibilities, Locke said that Commerce administers an array of other programs, including the Census Bureau. In response to a question, he said the bureau’s mission is to “count all people living in the U.S. … We don’t know – or care – whether a person is here legally or illegally.”

Acknowledging that Commerce also runs the U.S. Weather Service, Locke was asked about the snowfall (maybe up to 2-feet) that is predicted to hit Washington in the next 48 hours. His advice: “Just be prepared.”