Keeping a Close Eye on Obama's Export-Doubling Pledge

Is the date for doubling exports receding into the future?
Shipping containers sit stacked at the Port of New Orleans in New Orleans, Louisiana Photograph by Paul Taggart/Bloomberg

A new campaign brochure from President Barack Obama says his National Export Initiative is “putting America on the path to double exports by 2015.” It’s worth keeping a close eye on that target date. If exports don’t double until the end of 2015, Obama will have broken the pledge he made in his State of the Union address in January 2010. If exports double by the start of 2015, the pledge will be fulfilled.

A senior White House spokesman told me today that the 2015 date mentioned in the new campaign brochure doesn’t represent a shifting of the goal posts. “By 2015″ means by the start of the year, the spokesman said. So the Obama administration is sticking to its original target.

In his State of the Union address in January 2010, President Obama said, “We will double our exports over the next five years.” In subsequent progress reports, the administration made clear that the base year for comparison was 2009. Add five to that and you get to 2014. As recently as last month, Acting U.S. Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank said, “we continue making historic progress toward achieving President Obama’s National Export Initiative goal of doubling our exports by the end of 2014.” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also cited the 2014 date last month.

Slowdowns in Europe and Asia are making the target more difficult, but not impossible. Through August, exports in 2012 were up 43 percent from the comparable period in 2009.

But the end of 2014 is essentially the same as the start of 2015. This past June, then-Commerce Secretary John Bryson said the National Export Initiative seeks to double exports “by 2015.”

So the administration has remained consistent, so far. Alan Tonelson, a research fellow at the U.S. Business & Industry Council Educational Foundation who writes frequently on the U.S. trade deficit, wrote in an e-mail: “Soon I’m sure we’ll be hearing that they meant ‘by the end of 2015′!”

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