When the Obama White House announced a goal of doubling U.S. exports over five years, a few naive souls might have thought the president intended to back these words with action. The only action we’ve seen so far is the sort that undermines this worthy goal.
Last month, Obama appointees at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) sought to punish Boeing Co., which created $30 billion in exports in 2009, for expanding 787 Dreamliner production in non-union South Carolina - to the distress of union bosses in the Pacific Northwest.
The White House is quick to help unions but lethargic in aiding American exporters. In December, the administration announced it was ready to move forward on ratification of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement. “We have to do more to accelerate the economic recovery and create jobs for the millions of Americans who are still looking for work,” said President Obama. “And essential to that effort is opening new markets around the world to products that are ‘Made in America. ‘ “
Five months later, the “essential” agreement stood no closer to passage. This week the administration signaled the elimination of one more barrier to the trade deal originally negotiated in 2007. Finally the administration has come up with a way to accept two other trade deals, with Panama and Colombia, Republicans demand move through Congress at the same time.
Each month, delay costs American companies the advantages Mr. Obama said would “accelerate the economic recovery and create jobs.” For instance, if the Democratic Congress had acted on the South Korea trade deal when President George W. Bush negotiated it, American auto parts makers would have duty-free access to South Korea next year. Now that’s put off at least until 2016. U.S. manufacturers are losing out on the kinds of deals that would generate thousands of high-paying jobs.
The reality is that the administration is torn between giving the U.S. economy a shot in the arm that it desperately needs and pandering to Big Labor, which sees free trade as a threat. One hopes Mr. Obama will realize the economic growth that would come from ratifying these agreements would give him a boost in 2012.