WASHINGTON (CN) – As tensions grow between the United States and China over trade, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke unveiled plans on Thursday geared toward doubling American exports over the next five years. “This initiative will correct an economic blind spot that has allowed other countries to chip away at the United States’ international competitiveness,” Locke said in a statement.
President Obama, facing increasing pressure to boost employment, called for quick increases in exports in his State of the Union address last week, and the administration now says that it will increase funding to promote exports and put in place an export promotion cabinet to create two million jobs.
The program would focus on fast-growing sectors like renewable energy, health care, and biotechnology products.
American exports support nearly 10 million American jobs and accounted for $1.4 trillion during the first 11 months of last year. But exports as a percentage of the American economy are still well below the rates of nearly all major economic competitors, Locke said.
He added that every $1 billion in exports sustains 6,250 manufacturing jobs, which pay about 15 percent more than the average wage.
The announcement comes as China and the United States face widening divisions over China’s currency, which Obama says is kept artificially weak to unfairly boost exports.
China has also ramped up wind turbine production and has imposed limits to the import of outside wind turbines. Clean energy manufacturing is an area that Obama is aggressively pursuing in the United States.
The government says its goal is to remove barriers that prevent American companies from getting “free and fair access” to foreign markets, although the direct actions taken appear only to be changes in domestic policies.
The administration is creating an export promotion cabinet that reports directly to the president- including leaders from the U.S. Trade Representative Office and from the commerce, state and agriculture departments. Such an arrangement would be the first government-wide strategy to promote exports.
Under the plan, the Export-Import Bank would expand lending over the next year from $4 billion to $6 billion for small and medium-sized businesses that seek to export.
It would also add 328 trade experts to advocate for American companies, with the goal of increasing American presence in growing Chinese, Indian, and Brazilian markets. And it would encourage half of all small and medium-sized businesses that are exporting to only one foreign country, to expand to another.
Obama’s fiscal year 2011 budget, released earlier this week, seeks to boost the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration resources by 20 percent, and award $54 million extra to export promotion projects by the Agriculture Department.
Agriculture exports totaled $97 billion last year, accounting for 9 percent of total exports. This activity supported about a million jobs, the Commerce Department said.
The Commerce Department wrote, “The United States is committed to a rules-based trading system where the American people 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 going to be treated the same in their country.”