Obama Turns Focus to Trade as Way to Encourage Economic Growth

President Barack Obama’s export advisory group, headed by Boeing Co. Chief Executive Officer James McNerney and Xerox Corp. CEO Ursula Burns, released a report today recommending the government step up trade promotion and complete work on free-trade agreements.

Less than two months before congressional elections, with the economy a top issue for voters, Obama is turning his attention to trade, highlighting his goal of doubling U.S. exports over five years as a driver of economic growth.

“The more American companies export, the more they produce,” Obama said after meeting with the group at the White House. “And the more they produce, the more people they hire and that means more jobs -- good jobs that often pay as much as 15 percent more than average.”

Obama formed the Export Council in March, laying out a goal of doubling U.S. exports to about $3.1 trillion by 2015, supporting 2 million additional jobs. As part of his trade agenda, he is also working to revive stalled free-trade talks with South Korea and reach a deal during his November visit to Seoul.

The president didn’t reiterate the November deadline today, only saying that his administration is working to resolve outstanding issues and that he is seeking congressional approval “as soon as possible.”

More Trade Missions

The report recommends the government increase the number of trade missions and step up promotion abroad, increase financing for the purchase of U.S. exports and finish work on pending free-trade accords with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.

“The world wants to buy goods and services made in the United States and our workers are ready to produce them,” Obama said.

The advisory group didn’t address the value of China’s currency, which labor unions and some lawmakers argue is a barrier to U.S. exports and job growth. Obama didn’t mention China in his remarks either.

Congressional hearings on China’s foreign exchange policy continue for a second day in Washington with Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Banking Committee.

‘Currency Manipulation’

Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers Union, told a congressional panel yesterday that China’s currency policy has “directly harmed millions of manufacturing workers” while contributing to job losses and wage stagnation.

Doubling exports “will take deep reform of our trade policies and practices, starting with concrete measures to address currency manipulation,” he said.

The yuan, which was pegged to the dollar before China announced a shift in policy earlier this year, yesterday surged to its highest level since 1993.

“We are losing market share to Europeans and Asian and even South American countries,” McNerney told reporters at the White House after the export council ended its meeting. “There are 600 trade agreements being worked on right now around the world,” he said, adding that the number of accords involving the U.S. are in the “single digits.”

‘Agreement by November’

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said the U.S. will “hopefully have an agreement by November” with Korea when Obama attends the G20 economic meeting in that country.

Obama had made “a firm commitment to trade agreements” that are fair, Locke said. “They can be the source of a lot of new jobs, good-paying jobs” for American workers.

By promoting U.S. exports, the president is also addressing a core issue for the Democratic Party’s supporters in organized labor.

“Trade issues have split the Democratic Party for decades,” said Linda Fowler, professor of government at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, who studies midterm elections. “Blue-collar workers are not happy with the Obama administration, which needs the unions to get out the vote in this tough election.”

As part of the administration’s effort to showcase policies that will bolster long-term growth, Obama will announce the creation of a not-for-profit group that will be funded by private industry and work with corporate executives to encourage the study of math and science in school.

The group, Change the Equation, was founded by Burns, former astronaut Sally Ride, former Intel Corp. Chairman Craig Barrett, Eastman Kodak Co. CEO Antonio Perez and Time Warner Cable Inc. CEO Glenn Britt. The group’s members include more than 100 chief executives, who have provided $5 million in funding for its first year.

The organization’s goal is to improve teaching of science, technology, engineering and math and encourage students to study in those fields.

White House domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes said the program would “ensure that our students are no longer outperformed throughout the world.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Julianna Goldman in Washington at jgoldman6@bloomberg.net; Nicholas Johnston in Washington at njohnston3@bloomberg.net

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