- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Moving trade to a front burner, President Obama said Wednesday that the U.S. economy was on track to meet his goal of doubling exports in the next five years.

While many economists and business leaders see that target as too ambitious, the president has been increasingly linking his trade push with job creation - and trying to blunt a brewing revolt among leading business groups against his policies ahead of midterm elections.

“Export growth leads to job growth and economic growth,” Mr. Obama said as he named 18 business, labor and government leaders to a new export advisory council. “At a time when jobs are in short supply, building exports is an imperative.”

Mr. Obama said the nation’s sales abroad grew by 17 percent in the first four months of this year, declaring: “Our efforts are off to a solid start.”

Yet while the Commerce Department said exports of goods and services from January through April were up 16.9 percent, imports rose even more - up by 19.6 percent over the period.

The early 2010 surges in both exports and imports reflected a rebound in global trade from its deep swoon in 2008 and early 2009 at the depth of the global economic downturn.

But the manufacturing gains and inventory restocking that drove the early stages of the recovery have begun to fade, according to the latest economic reports.

With shell-shocked consumers unlikely to power the economic recovery by returning to their free-spending ways, White House officials are counting on trade and business investment to contribute a larger role.

But the president’s goal of doubling exports by 2015 “is challenging. It’s going to require a very broad set of initiatives,” said Pat Mears, director of international commercial affairs at the National Association of Manufacturers. The group strongly supports Mr. Obama’s export goals.

The president’s showcasing of his newly energized trade agenda appeared aimed, in part, at quieting increasing vocal criticism from the business community of his decisions on taxes, trade and financial regulation.

In one of the sharpest rebukes yet from corporate America, Ivan Seidenberg, chief executive of Verizon Communications Inc. and head of the influential Business Roundtable, late last month blasted the administration for decisions he said “create an increasingly hostile environment for investment and job-creation.”

Mr. Seidenberg was among those named by Mr. Obama on Wednesday to the new advisory panel, which also includes executives of Walt Disney Co., Ford Motor Co. and the Boeing Co.

Mr. Obama has also drawn criticism from business groups and free-traders on Capitol Hill for not doing more to promote trade, making little visible effort to pass free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea signed during the George W. Bush administration.

But in a surprise move, the president suddenly revived the South Korean pact at a global summit in Toronto, saying he hoped to have most outstanding issues resolved before he visits Seoul in November.

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