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UPS Chief Executive Scott Davis said Mr. Obama’s goal of doubled exports in five years would help “foster engagement in the global economy for small and large businesses.” And Ford CEO Alan Mulally said Mr. Obama recognizes that “for exports to grow we must ensure that market access for manufactured goods remains at the center of U.S. trade policy.”

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former Congressional Budget Office director who was 2008 GOP presidential candidate John McCain’s top economic adviser, said some of Mr. Obama’s economic overtures have merit, such as the push to double U.S. exports and the president’s vow to move ahead on the South Korea trade agreement.

But, he said, “I think Republicans are going to be skeptical until they see real action.” Mr. Holtz-Eakin said “the business community’s dismay” with Mr. Obama is driven by a sense that “he’s saying one thing and dead-set on doing another.”