U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke delivered an impassioned defense of both free trade agreements and the Obama Administration’s 2009 interventions in the troubled United States economy Tuesday in Detroit.
Before a packed house at the International District Export Council Conference at the Renaissance Center, Locke said that even the economic team that advised defeated 2008 Republican candidate John McCain estimates that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the federal stimulus, has saved or created three million American jobs.
And he said that in Michigan, two million people are receiving some kind of emergency benefit under the Obama economic plan.
He was especially proud of the role the administration played in the rescue of the American auto industry.
“This administration, this president, bet on American workers in one of the industries that made America great,” Locke said. “We did it despite the criticism of doubters who were ready to leave this entire industry for dead. If the president had not stepped in, how many millions more would be unemployed? How many more businesses would be struggling?”
Locke said that while the economic recovery remains too sluggish for comfort, the private sector has added jobs nine months in a row, and there have been four straight quarters of GDP growth.
Locke said pending free trade agreements with Korea, Panama and Colombia can create even more jobs, and he called on the exporters and District Export Council officials in attendance at the event to “ehlp in pointing the advantages of these agreements.” He said the Panama agreement is being hung up by “very technical tax issues,” while access for U.S. automakers to the Korean auto market would be a big part of the Korean deal.
He said U.S. exports of everything from airplanes to art are up 18 percent so far this year — manufacturing exports up 22 percent. He said that puts the U.S. on the Obama administration’s goal of doubling exports within five years — which requires a 14 to 15 percent compounded annual growth rate over five years.
And he said his department is working with shippers like UPS and FedEx to identify companies most ripe for additional exports.
Locke also said there’s strong demand for U.S.-made goods in some countries, citing Hungary and Vietnam as examples.
“There are companies in Hungary who look for U.S. businesses on Google but are overwhelmed by all the possibilities, and they don’t know who the reputable companies are,” Locke said. “Companies in Vietnam would much rather buy from us than Chinese companies but they don’t know how. We just need to do a beter job of marketing our (Commerce Department trade) services, many of which are free.”
David Jacobson, U.S. Ambassador to Canada, later spoke on the importance of the U.S-Canada trade relationship. Michigan and Ontario are each other’s largest trading partners.
Jacobson acknowledged American tough times but said exports are a major way out.
“These are very difficult economic times, but we have had very difficult economic times before, and people have not done very well over the past few hundred years betting against the fight and the will of the American people,” Jacobson said. “If we can double our exports over the next five years, we will create millions of good jobs, and if we are going to meet that goal, it is going to start with the country with which we have the largest trading relationship between any two countries in the history of the world,” Canada.
Jacobson said exports created six million U.S. jobs in 2009, but that there are “still too few companies engaged in tapping outside markets and even fewer who do it successfully in more than one country…. The math is quite simple. If we increase our exports we increase our jobs and enhance our overall prosperity.”
Jacobson pointed to renewable energy as one strong growth prospect, and said the current strength of the Canadian dollar — virtually at par with the U.S. dollar — makes U.S. exporters more competitive in Canada.
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