President Barack Obama declared good progress Wednesday on his pledge to double U.S. exports over the next five years, saying the nation's sales abroad were up 17 percent in first four months of this year.
Speaking at the White House to a gathering of government and corporate officials, Obama said his administration is "bringing to bear the full resources of the United States government."
"Our efforts are off to a solid start," he said.
Obama has been emphasizing his efforts on the economy with increasing frequency lately, as fears rise that the nation's already fragile recovery is weakening and perhaps headed to a second recession. Later in the week, he is scheduled to talk on the economy twice more, on a trip to Missouri and Nevada.
The topic of exports is especially important because the recovery has been driven far more by sales abroad and business and government spending than it has by consumer spending. And with critical midterm elections drawing closer, the White House wants to burnish the administration's image on the job-creation front.
"At a time when jobs are in short supply," Obama said Wednesday, "building exports is an imperative."
And yet, the president's positive perspective comes amid some disappointing developments that he didn't mention.
For instance, exports fell in April for the second time in three months.
And there are worries that they will fall even further, as Europe's financial crisis deepens and threatens a key market for American goods and services.
In addition, home sales are plunging and factory orders are down. And June's unemployment report showed weak private-sector job creation, with just 83,000 private sector jobs added that month. That is far short of what the economy needs — at least 200,000 jobs a month — to bring down the near double-digit unemployment rate, which remains high — at 9.5 percent.
Obama touted dozens of trade missions abroad and efforts to make global trade more fair.
Increased access to financing for small and medium-size businesses has resulted in a more than doubling of loans from the Export-Import Bank since last year, which Obama said has helped support nearly 110,000 jobs.
The president said his administration is also working hard to remove trade barriers and open new markets, by pursuing new trade agreements with other countries and acting when other nations — such as Russia or China — throw roadblocks in the way. Obama said these steps are "worth more than $1 billion to American businesses."
He named 18 business, labor and government leaders to a new presidential advisory council on exports. Walt Disney's Robert Iger, Alan Mulally of the Ford Motor Co. and Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg are among those on the President's Export Council.
He said a new Cabinet of key administration officials will meet every few months to chart progress, and is set to release a summary report in September.
"This is a nation that has never shied away from the prospect of competition," Obama said. "And we are upping our game for the playing field of the 21st century."
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