fresh voices from the front lines of change







In his State of the Union speech President Obama announced the National Export Initiative, a campaign to double US exports within 5 years. Today he gave a progress report and announced the members of his Export Council, with a number of CEOs (and one labor leader) including Alan Mulally of the Ford Motor Company, Scott Davis of U.P.S., Glenn Tilton, United Airlines Chairman and CEO and Robert A. Iger of the Walt Disney Company.

The White House says that with a 17% increase in exports in the first 4 months of the year we are on track to double exports within 5 years.

Announcing the Export Council, Obama said, “We’ve got to compete for those customers. We mean to compete for those jobs and compete to win.” For example, they are setting up “business assistance centers” abroad to help American companies get business, and increasing credit through the Export/Import bank.. They are fighting barriers that other countries have set up to keep out American products, so far increasing our export of things like pork by $1 billion. “When we give other countries the privilege of free and fair access we expect it in return.”

Leo Hindery, Chairman of the US Economy/Smart Globalization Initiative at the New America Foundation, writes at Huffington Post,

There are three problems with this pledge. First, doubling U.S. exports would create just 10 percent of the 22 million new jobs we need, and yet, combined with multiple new free trade agreements (FTAs), it seems to be the only specific jobs policy coming from the White House. Second, this strategy wrongly overshadows the more critical imperative of ‘import substitution’. Third, the first three FTAs being proposed — with South Korea, Panama and Colombia — are very poorly negotiated and will cause even more American jobs to be lost overseas.

. . . And as the economist Clyde Prestowitz has determined, with plenty of supporting evidence, “the more free trade agreements the U.S. has entered into, the bigger America’s trade imbalances have become and the less our allies have seemed to like or pay attention to us”.

Hindery explains how past “free trade” agreement have failed American workers,

When NAFTA was proposed in 1993, five promises were made about the positive effects that were certain to come to the U.S., not one of which has been kept. The two ‘biggies,’ of course, were that (1) “NAFTA will generate a U.S. trade surplus with Mexico of around $100 billion between the years 2000 and 2010” — in fact, our trade deficit with Mexico for these ten years will be around $527 billion; and (2) “NAFTA will create many new high-wage jobs in the United States” — instead, at least two million American workers have already lost their jobs.

. . . But even more imbalanced has been China’s entry into the WTO, which occurred a decade ago. Back then, President Clinton promised that this would be “a hundred-to-nothing deal for America when it comes to the economic consequences” — instead, our overall trade deficit with China has increased 173 percent since 2000, China is now responsible for around 75 percent of our overall annual trade deficit in manufactured goods, and we’ve lost more than one-third of our manufacturing jobs, mostly to China (and Mexico).

But Hindery’s beef is not that Obama is pushing Bush-negotiated agreements with Korea, Columbia and Panama, it is that this appears to be the only job-creation plan that Obama is offering. Hindery offers a number of steps to improve the situation, including scrapping Bush-negotiated trade agreements and negotiating fair and balanced agreements that lift us and our partners instead of giving big corporations a hammer to use to lower American wages and eliminate American jobs.

Increasing exports is important. Fighting trade barriers is important. This will help the economy recover. Bravo to the President for this. Now, how about recognizing that there is a jobs emergency and pushing hard on the Congress to set up some direct government job-creation programs?

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