Obama, eyeing China, to boost export financing
* Says foreign companies afforded unfair edge
* Seeks to centralize U.S. trade assistance
* China exports sensitive for many U.S. voters
By Laura MacInnis
SAN FRANCISCO, Feb 17 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will stay focused on China on Friday with an announcement of streamlined financing for U.S. exporters that compete against foreign firms that are afforded "unfair advantages," White House officials said.
Obama is set to unveil the trade assistance plan on a visit to Boeing - one of the top American exporters - as China's leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping wraps up a U.S. visit that has stoked trade tensions ahead of November's White House vote.
The president will issue a memorandum calling for a unified federal trade budget "so that the Export-Import Bank can provide U.S. firms competing for domestic or third-country sales with matching financing support," the White House said.
The assistance is meant "to counter foreign non-competitive official financing that fails to observe international discipline," it said in a statement, which was backed up by a conference call with U.S. officials.
"China and other global competitors often provide unfair advantages to help their companies win business overseas," it said in the statement released before Obama flew to Seattle from California, where he has been fundraising for his re-election.
"The president will not allow U.S. companies and workers to lose out on valuable business due to unfair export financing, and will use the administration's full powers to ensure that they are competing on an even footing," the White House said.
It was not clear how much trade finance - normally lines of credit or short-term loans - could emerge from the shift. The White House said other countries like China, Brazil, Canada, Germany and India now offer more export credit financing as a share of their economies than the United States.
With many Americans in electoral swing states out of work - having seen manufacturing jobs move to China and factories close because of cheap Chinese exports - trade is a sensitive topic as the Nov. 6 presidential election nears.
After meeting Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping at the White House, Obama traveled to Wisconsin on Wednesday to highlight a U.S. company that "insourced" jobs back to the United States from China as a sign of U.S. economic rebound.
Mitt Romney, the front-runner for the Republican nomination, said if he were elected in November he would immediately hit back at "abusive Chinese practices" hurting the U.S. economy.
"A trade war with China is the last thing I want, but I cannot tolerate our current trade surrender," he wrote in a Wall Street Journal editorial on Thursday.
In January, Obama asked Congress to give him the authority to streamline the U.S. government's trade promotion work, with the goal of bringing together the current "maze" of interlinked bodies into a single new department focused on exports.
Lisa Brown of the White House Office of Management and Budget said the steps to be announced on Friday - including a new "BusinessUSA" website for firms needing export help - should help simplify things while Capitol Hill mulls that request.
The White House said the United States is ahead of schedule to double exports by 2014, one of Obama's key economic goals.
Fred Hochberg, head of the Export-Import Bank, said emerging countries' spending on energy systems, roads and health care helped American manufacturers and designers. "Demand for U.S. products and U.S. services is at an all-time high," he said.
Boeing is striving to win back the crown of world's biggest plane maker from its French rival Airbus this year. Its plant in Everett, Washington, where Obama will visit, makes widebody planes.
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