The Obama administration remains “very committed” to reaching the president’s goal of doubling exports by the end of 2015, said Francisco Sanchez, undersecretary of international trade at the U.S. Commerce Department.
Sanchez, who was one of the keynote speakers at the Textile and Apparel Importer Trade and Transportation Conference last week, said under the National Export Initiative, exports were up 34 percent from $1.5 trillion to $2.1 trillion in 2011. That included, he noted, $22 billion in textile and apparel exports.
Last week, the Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis said exports edged up only slightly last year to $2.2 trillion, but Sanchez told American Shipper
in an interview that “the president always said this was a stretch call, he did not want to make this too easy to achieve. He always wanted everyone to work hard to get there.”
While a story in the Washington Post
last week highlighted a study of 32 developing nations by World Bank economists
that found 1 percent of exporters account for about half of exports and 5 percent of exporters 80 percent of exports, Sanchez said “if you draw the conclusion…you should only be reinforcing large companies, then I think that is an inaccurate conclusion and sets up a false choice.”
He agreed the bulk of export value comes from large U.S. companies, but said 34 percent of export value came from small and midsized companies. “That is not an insignificant amount of exports. I certainly do not want to do anything not to support $700 billion in exports,” he said.
While apparel companies are major importers, Sanchez said the International Trade Administration (ITA) was working through trade promotion to expand opportunities for U.S. companies by connecting them with overseas buyers. He said the department will soon launch a searchable registry that will help overseas buyers find U.S. producers of textile, footwear and apparel.
Sanchez has three areas of responsibility - export promotion, trade policy including efforts to reduce non-tariff barriers, and trade law and trade enforcement through the use of tools such as antidumping and countervailing duties.
He noted efforts to reduce trade barriers are broad-based, while others are initiated by individual companies complaining about a particular policy or regulation inhibiting their efforts to sell goods and services in another country.
U.S. businesses will benefit from the free trade agreements signed last year with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which the Obama administration is currently negotiating.
The TPP is a “21st century trade agreement” and will have precedential value when future agreements are negotiated. Sanchez predicted it will "become the gold standard for a trade agreement dealing with tariff and non-tariff issues,” and also address issues of transparency, standards, and regulatory cooperation.
The 16th round of of the TPP will be held in Singapore on March 4-13. In addition to the United States, countries participating in the agreement include Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Chile, New Zealand, Brunei, Australia, Peru, Vietnam, Mexico and Canada.
“It will promote economic integration in the region and I believe it will promote healthy two-way trade among the various partner countries,” he said.
Sanchez said other countries would be able to join the agreement if they agree to its provisions.
He argued that trade agreements have been beneficial to the United States, adding while the United States may run a deficit with some countries with which it has trade agreements, in aggregate, “we run a surplus with the countries we have trade agreements with.”
The decision by President Obama to grant Russia permanent normal trade relations last month will also be a plus for U.S. exports, he said, allowing “American companies to take advantage of Russia’s ascension to the World Trade Organization. Overall trade is nowhere near its full potential and having Russia within a rules-based organization is going to be very important will have the effect of making a more level playing field and give U.S. companies access to opportunities they did not have before.”
Among the services the ITA offers are trade counseling, trade missions, and advocacy on behalf of exporters responding to government tenders around the world, he said.
However, the TPP is controversial with some fair trade activists, even the leaders of unions that handle international commerce.
For example, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Maritime Union of New Zealand protested the agreement in December.
“These deals aren’t free and aren’t fair to workers. They undermine secure jobs and health and safety conditions," said ILWU International Vice President Ray Familathe. "Maritime and transport workers unions around the world are mobilizing against these secretive, undemocratic and anti-worker free trade deals like the TPP." - Chris Dupin