By Stephen Kaufman
President Obama says the U.S. economy is on its way to meet the goal of doubling exports from 2010 levels by the end of 2014, and he urged U.S. policymakers to advance free trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership to help sustain the momentum in growth.
Speaking at a March 12 meeting of the President’s Export Council at the White House, Obama said “we are well on our way to meeting a very ambitious goal that we set several years ago to double U.S. exports,” and that many of the jobs recently added to the economy “have been export-driven” from a wide variety of sectors.
“The question now becomes how do we sustain this momentum?” he said. “Part of it is making sure that we get in place strong trade deals.”
U.S. lawmakers have ratified trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and the Republic of Korea in recent years, and the president said his administration is “moving aggressively” on the high-standards trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
The TPP “sets a bar that ensures that trade is fair and free. And for those of us who abide by high labor standards and high environmental standards, obviously being able to lock in those kinds of high standards in the fastest-growing region of the world and the most populous region of the world can yield enormous benefits and help to generate billions of dollars in trade and millions of jobs,” he said.
In addition, the United States is working to expand trade with its largest trading partner, the European Union (EU), through the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which aims to break down some existing barriers between the two and to smooth differences in regulatory approaches, he said.
Obama said the EU is “hungrier for a deal than they have been in the past” as it seeks “a recipe for growth” following austerity measures put in place due to economic recession in the absence of “a more aggressive trade component.”
In discussions with European partners, “we’ve been able to narrow some of the differences,” he said.
“We’ve identified on the regulatory side, customs side, areas where we can synchronize without hurting either side, but simply lubricating more effective trade between the two countries,” Obama said.
Council member and Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota said within the United States, the “growing political support for fair trade agreements is huge,” thanks to their potential to create more jobs.
“It creates a kind of support for trade that is much more organic and really goes in a grass-roots way across the country. And I think we have to remember that as a piece of what’s good for the economy, but also it will grow support for this new global economy,” she said.
Klobuchar also said tourism levels have grown, with a 50 percent increase from China. Many Asian tourists, she added, are visiting the Mall of America located in her home state.
The president said revenue from tourism counts as a U.S. export, and he said the United States has been able to accelerate its visa services to encourage more travelers.
“We’ve been able to make sure that we are out there actively seeking visitors to come here and promoting the U.S. as a tourist destination,” he said. These efforts include Brazil, where “we’ve been able to cut down visa times drastically.”
“We’ve seen as a consequence some significant expansion in tourism out of South America because of some of the steps that we’ve taken,” he said, and Brazilians now make up one of the largest groups of visitors to Florida.
The president said small- and medium-sized businesses also need to benefit from the increase in trade. There is room for such enterprises, Obama said, not only to supply large businesses, but also to enter directly into the global trade market with direct exports.
The United States also needs to prepare its infrastructure to respond to global climate change by managing its inland waterways such as the Mississippi River, where water levels are dropping, Obama said.
“Whether or not we can continue to use barges to move a lot of product out of the American heartland to ports around the world, that’s going to depend on our infrastructure,” he said.
To meet its trade and export goals, the United States will need to continue “making great products and delivering great services,” the president told the council, and that will require hiring “a great workforce.”