On Feb. 4, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke spoke to the National Press Club about the National Export Initiative (NEI).  The Initiative was announced by President Obama in his State of the Union address.  The goal of the National Export Initiative is to double American exports over the next five years and support two million American jobs. On Feb. 4, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke spoke to the National Press Club about the National Export Initiative (NEI).  The Initiative was announced by President Obama in his State of the Union address.  The goal of the National Export Initiative is to double American exports over the next five years and support two million American jobs.
 
“At a time when traditional drivers of U.S. economic growth like consumer and business spending are strained, we simply must elevate exports as a key part of our economic recovery efforts,” said Locke.
 
Locke outlined how the NEI will help increase American exports.  NEI will: 
*       Provide more funding for export promotion
*       Provide more coordination between government agencies
*       Ensure that commercial advocacy objectives get government-wide support
*       Ensure increased advocating for U.S. products in interactions with foreign businesses, farmers and foreign officials
*       Create an Export Promotion Cabinet reporting to the president that will consist of top leaders from the Commerce, Treasury and State Departments, the Department of Agriculture, the Export-Import Bank, the office of the United States Trade Representative and the Small Business Administration
 
Here are some of the steps that Locke said will be taken to improve U.S. export promotion performance:
*       A more robust effort by this administration to expand its trade advocacy in all its forms. That means:
o      Educating U.S. companies about opportunities overseas,
o      Directly connecting them with new customers, and
o      Advocating more forcefully for their interests 
*       Improving access to credit in the wake of the financial crisis, especially for small- and medium-sized businesses that want to export.
*       Continuing the rigorous enforcement of international trade laws to help remove barriers that prevent U.S. companies from getting open and fair access to foreign markets.
 
Exports have been identified by the Obama administration as a key to rebuilding the economy because exports support nearly 10 million jobs in America and almost 7 million jobs in manufacturing – and for every US$1 billion in exports, 6,250 manufacturing jobs are created or supported.
 
“[W]hile the U.S. is a major exporter, we are underperforming,” stated Locke.  “U.S. exports as a percentage of GDP are still well below nearly all major economic competitors… less than one percent of America’s 30 million companies export – a percentage that is also significantly lower than all other developed countries. And of U.S. companies that do export, 58 percent export to only one country.” 
 
Locke also said, “With our increasingly interconnected world – where 95 percent of consumers reside outside our borders – these are opportunities American companies cannot afford to miss.”
 
The National Export Initiative, said Locke, will help build American exports “by giving senior American officials traveling abroad a second job description:  Advocate and salesperson for U.S. companies and products.”
  
The Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration (ITA) has a global network of trade specialists posted in 109 U.S. cities and at 128 U.S. embassies and consulates in 77 countries.  These specialists will be able to help American companies identify promising new markets and contacts in foreign countries.
 
As part of the NEI, the president’s 2011 budget is requesting a 20 percent in­crease for ITA – totaling US$78 million–which ITA will use “to bring on as many as 328 trade experts – mostly in foreign countries – to advocate and find customers for U.S. companies, allowing its Commercial Service to assist more than 23,000 clients to begin or grow their export sales in 2011, according to Locke.
 
Secretary Locke said that ITA isn’t waiting for extra funds in 2011. In the next month, they are set to launch a 12-month program to help create jobs in America by: 
o        Identifying new markets for existing U.S. exporters;
o        Increasing the number of foreign buyers to U.S. trade shows;
o        Working with private sector partners to increase exporting through our market development cooperator grant program; and
o        By getting more clean energy companies involved in promising new markets.
 
American firms who want to sell their goods or services abroad, can call 1-800-USA-TRADE to access assistance from Commerce Department experts.
 
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. 
 
Locke said in the coming months the CommerceConnect Website will be launched. This 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,” said Locke.
 
As part of NEI, the president has proposed an additional US$54 million for the Department of Agriculture to enhance its export promotion activities, which will mean: 
o        More technical assistance to help farmers selling specialty crops;
o        More foreign country promotions extolling U.S. commodities; and
o        More direct assistance to farmers to develop new foreign markets and to increase market share in existing markets.
 
“As part of the National Export Initiative, the president has called upon the Export-Import Bank – which provides critical financing to U.S. 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,” said Locke.
 
Locke also spoke about the need for equal treatment in trade agreements with other countries and the importance of enforcing U.S. trade laws; combating unfair tariff and non-tariff barriers; and cracking down on practices that blatantly harm U.S. companies, like the theft of intellectual property.
  
“When I came to Commerce,” explained Locke, “my goal was to improve interagency cooperation on export promotion. To that end, we revitalized the Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee, which in many ways had been ignored in recent years.
 
“The coordinating committee brings together 20 federal agencies and departments to work on export expansion efforts, and it will now help operationalize at the staff level, the goals laid out in the National Export Initiative.”

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