Global trade official explains U.S. plans for growth

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GLOBAL TRADERSIt’s an ambitious goal: Double U.S. exports during the next five years and support 2 million jobs in the process.

But President Barack Obama’s National Export Initiative is vital in putting Americans back to work, said U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade Francisco Sanchez during a recent visit to Miami. “At the end of the day, this has to support jobs,” he said.

The key to achieving those numbers, said Sanchez, is working smarter.

So instead of concentrating on companies that have never exported before, the initial emphasis will be to encourage companies that only export to one market — 60 percent have such a singular focus — to reach out and add a second or third market.

Better coordination by creating a mini-cabinet of officials who work on export promotion, a presidential request for a 20 percent increase in the International Trade Administration’s 2011 budget, and partnering with various agencies and companies are part of the effort.

The Foreign Commercial Service, for example, will train Small Business Administration counselors so they will be able to work with companies to get them export-ready.

And the ITA is working with FedEx, UPS and the U.S. Postal Service and their databases to identify companies that have the best chance of expanding exports to a second or third market. Their sales forces also are being trained to supply information on export resources, said Sanchez. So far, more than 4,000 companies have been identified.

The initiative will concentrate on emerging markets: China, Brazil and India as the first priorities, and then Colombia, South Africa, Indonesia and Vietnam. “All these countries offer huge opportunities,” said Sanchez, a Florida native who once practiced law in Miami.

Another part of the equation is vigorously enforcing trade law and breaking down trade barriers, said Sanchez. “I’m an unabashed free-trader. My middle name is Juan, but I’d gladly change it to free trade.”

Still, doubling U.S. exports will be a challenge. Last week, the U.S. Commerce Department announced that the U.S. trade deficit rose to $40.4 billion in March—the largest monthly deficit in 15 months. Exports were up but imports were too — a sign of an improving U.S. economy.

But an anemic euro, which hit four-year lows this week, will make U.S. exports more expensive and European exports cheaper for U.S. consumers and manufacturers.

During his South Florida visit, Sanchez stopped by The Miami Herald to discuss the president’s export initiative and other trade matters.

QUESTION: Under the National Export Initiative, you discussed improving access to capital. How would that work for the small exporter?
ANSWER: The SBA is looking at ways to expand export finance assistance. We at the ITA are working through our division of manufacturing and services with banks around the country trying to encourage them to look at the opportunities available for export finance.
The Export Import Bank is expanding its role — particularly for small and medium-sized companies — to provide loan guarantees for exports. We’re trying to engage the private sector.

Q: Since March 29 (when you were sworn in) what countries have you visited and what is the message you’re trying to get across?

A: I have met with trade with trade ministers and ambassadors — mostly in Washington — from about 15 different countries. At least eight of the 15 countries are in the Western Hemisphere. I’m going to lead a trade mission to Saudi Arabia in early June. Later in the month I’m going to Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia.

My first overseas trip was to Brazil where I co-led with my counterpart from the Commercial Dialogue, which is the venue we use to discuss the lowering of trade barriers and ways to expand our commercial ties and trade.

I’m also leaving May 21 for China. I’ll be attending the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which is the venue we use mostly to talk about macroeconomic issues. Then I’ll follow up that meeting with a check-in with my counterparts in China on the work of the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade. Some of the topics we’ll be talking about include intellectual property rights protection and barriers that stifle, particularly our most innovative companies, from entering the market.

Q: During the recession, the trade deficit was narrower, U.S. companies weren’t buying. What happens during the recovery?

A: I think the president recognizes that if we’re going to have a robust economy, it has to have a strong export sector. Ninety-five percent of the world’s consumers live outside our borders. I know trade is a two-way street.

So as the world economy improves, while there may be an increase in imports, if we’ve done our job right, there should be a strong increase in exports.

We absolutely think of tourism as an export, too. Instead of a product or service leaving our country, it becomes an export when someone visits and uses our hotels, our rental cars, our restaurants. We’ve very excited about the travel promotion act that recently passed. In time, it will generate about $100 million in revenue, and that money will be used to promote tourism

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.