WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will insist other countries honor commitments to open their markets as it strives to meet President Barack Obama’s goal of doubling exports during the next five years, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said on Thursday.
“Free trade only works in a system of rules where all parties live up to their obligations,” Locke said in the prepared text of a speech he was to give detailing Obama’s National Export Initiative, or NEI.
“The United States is committed to a rules-based trading system where the American people and the Congress can feel confident that when we sign an agreement that gives foreign countries the privilege of free and fair access to our domestic market, we are treated the same.”
Locke did not direct his comments at China or any country by name. But Obama made clear on Wednesday the United States planned to keep up pressure on Beijing.
“The approach that we’re taking is trying to get much tougher about enforcement of existing rules, putting constant pressure on China and other countries to open up their markets in reciprocal ways,” he told Democratic senators.
Obama also acknowledged lawmakers’ concern about China’s currency which the U.S. Treasury Department says is “substantially undervalued” against the dollar, saying international currency rates needed to be addressed.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and other G7 finance ministers are expected to discuss China’s exchange rate policy when they meet this weekend in Canada.
In his State of the Union speech last week, Obama set the goal of doubling U.S. exports to support 2 million American jobs, picking up on an idea touted for months by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a leading business group.
Locke outlined a three-pronged strategy to achieve that goal by 2014 that includes tougher enforcement of trade pacts, strong government advocacy for U.S. exporters and increased export financing.
“This initiative will correct an economic blind spot that has allowed other countries to slowly chip away at the United States’ international competitiveness,” Locke said.
Although trade was badly hit by the global financial crisis, U.S. exports of goods and services set a record of about $1.83 trillion last year.
Exports fell in the first half of 2009 but have on been on the rise since. Final figures due out next week are expected to show total 2009 exports in the range of about $1.54 trillion.
Facing huge budget and trade deficits, the Obama administration hopes to shift the U.S. economy away from its heavy reliance on consumer demand and more toward investment and exports to propel growth.
“While the U.S. is a major exporter, we are underperforming,” Locke said. “U.S. exports as a percentage of GDP are still well below nearly all of our major economic competitors.”
Obama also is creating an Export Promotion Cabinet that includes top officials from the Departments of Commerce, State and Agriculture as well as the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, the Small Business Administration and the Export-Import Bank of the United States, Locke said.
Each agency will be charged with developing a detailed plan over the next six months for boosting exports.
Obama also has directed the Exim Bank to boost export credit financing for small and medium-sized business from $4 billion to $6 billion over the next year, and his budget calls for $80 million in additional funding for the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration.
The new resources will allow ITA to hire as many as 328 trade experts to serve as advocates for U.S. companies and to assist more than 23,000 clients to begin or grow their export sales in 2011, Locke said.
The agency will focus particularly on increasing the number of small and medium-sized businesses exporting to more than one market by 50 percent over the next five years, he said.
Editing by Alan Elsner