Obama touts US exports plan again, as voters stew over slow economy

President Obama on Thursday again stressed his commitment to double US exports in five years and, thus, create 2 million jobs. Is a tougher stance toward China part of his plan?

J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo
President Barack Obama announces his recommendations to work on free trade agreements and to step up trade promotion at a meeting of his export council, Thursday, Sept. 16, in the East Room of the White House in Washington.

With voters unhappy about the state of the economy and his economic management skills, President Obama on Thursday stressed again his commitment to double American exports in five years and, thus, create 2 million jobs.

Boosting trade “is one of my top priorities,” Mr. Obama told members of the President’s Export Council during an appearance in the East Room. The goal of doubling exports is “something that is achievable” if exports rise 14 to 15 percent a year, he said.

The current pace of export growth is far less robust than the president’s goal. Before Mr. Obama spoke Thursday, the Commerce Department reported that the US trade deficit in the second quarter climbed to its highest point since 2008. US exports to other countries rose 3.4 percent from the first three months of the year to $316.1 billion. Imports from other countries rose 6.3 percent in the same period to $485.7 billion.

The president’s goal for export job creation is based on annual exports hitting $3.1 trillion by 2015.

Obama’s appearance before the executives on his Export Council was just one aspect of the administration’s effort to be more visible pushing export growth. The Treasury Department on Wednesday released congressional testimony that Secretary Timothy Geithner was slated to deliver Thursday stiffening his criticism of China’s exchange rate policies. Mr. Geithner called on China to allow “significant, sustained appreciation over time” in its currency and allow the yuan to “fully reflect market forces.”

If China allowed its currency to appreciate significantly against the dollar, that would make US exports more competitive and boost sales, helping US job creation. “We are concerned, as are many of China’s trading partners, that the pace of appreciation has been too slow and the extent of appreciation too limited,” Geithner was expected to tell the Senate Banking Committee, per his prepared testimony.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke has also been hammering the trade and jobs theme. “The more that America’s companies export, the more they produce. The more they produce, they more they hire, and that means more jobs,” Mr. Locke told reporters on Wednesday, according to a Bloomberg report.

The economy remains a major vulnerability for the president and his party going into November’s congressional elections, with the national unemployment rate at 9.6 percent. The latest Gallup poll found that only 38 percent of those surveyed approve of Obama’s handling of the economy. That is well below his overall approval rating, which the latest CBS News poll said was 45 percent.

The President’s Export Council issued a report Thursday that called for a variety of steps to boost US companies' ability to sell abroad. Recommendations included a campaign to raise awareness about export opportunities for small and medium-size firms; bringing more international buyers to US trade shows; boosting the number of US trade missions going abroad; and providing more funding to help finance exports.

Perhaps fearing that viewers’ eyes would glaze over when the talk turns to trade, CNN, Fox, and MSNBC did not cover Obama's appearance live.

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