What does the Obama Administration think about international trade? I was pleased to hear two Administration officials over the past couple of days endorse the importance of expanding U.S. companies' access to foreign markets. But on the policy side, this belief is not yet being translated into action. The long-awaited speech from the President on trade policy is still out there in the future — after health care legislation is done – so the ripples of his decision to impose steep tariffs on certain tires from China and include Buy American requirements in the stimulus legislation remain defining elements of his approach. The pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama continue to languish. In fact, the EU is edging ahead of us on preferential access to South Korea.
So yesterday I was pleased to hear Jane Oates, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training, speaking on C-Span about the economy and clearly stating that exporting supports job creation and retention. In response to a question about green jobs and pulling the economy out of the recession, Asst. Sec, Oates, who is responsible for federal unemployment benefits and job training programs, noted that many sectors will be important to future economic growth. She added:
I believe our sister agencies [the Commerce Department and the Small Business Administration] are working to expand the markets of small business by treating them to lots of experiences in how to expand their market to foreign markets. I mean, very few of our small and medium size businesses do a lot of work with exports. Now clearly, if we can expand the markets for those small and medium size businesses to do business outside the geographic United States, they can build jobs. And then our [Department of Labor's] role will be to make sure that those workers have the training they need as they expand. (Emphasis added.)
Let's get moving on opening those markets!
Last week I was privileged to attend remarks by Fred Hochberg, President and Chairman of the U.S. Export-Import Bank, which makes its living (it pays for itself) by providing export financing for U.S. goods and services and just finished its biggest year ever. Hochberg, who just returned from a trip to China and Korea focused on solar energy technology, is leading an 8-city tour of U.S. agencies that are ready to assist U.S. businesses with international sales. In his remarks, he cited the growth potential of Brazil, Colombia, India, Indonesia and Vietnam and the growth industries of construction, health technology and energy transmission infrastructure. (Sounds like a lot of NEMA companies to me.) Hochberg will travel soon to Colombia and Peru to promote Ex-Im's services to potential buyers in those markets. Keep it up, Fred! And tell your friends!