Despite the European slowdown and protectionist tendencies in some countries, a top U.S. trade official says the United States remains on track to meet a five-year goal of doubling American exports by the end of 2014.
To reach the target President Barack Obama set in his National Export Initiative, U.S. exports need to grow 14.8 percent each year, said Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade Francisco Sanchez.
Sanchez made a stop in Miami this week after attending the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, and the World Economic Forum in Mexico.
During the first two years of the Obama initiative, which began in 2010, U.S. exports have grown at a rate of 15.5 percent annually, he said.
Sanchez said there have been encouraging signs, such as the U.S.-Colombia free trade pact, which will wipe out 80 percent of tariffs on products traded between the two countries when it goes into effect May 15, and a free trade agreement with Panama that will be implemented later this year. But he said there are also challenges.
"There are some things that are going on in Argentina that are troubling,'' said Sanchez.
And that was his sentiment even before Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner announced this week that Argentina planned to expropriate 51 percent of oil producer YPF SA, which is owned by Spain's Repsol YPF.
"Argentina imposed an import licensing requirement,'' said Sanchez. "That's a trade barrier and bad in itself. But it can take up to six months to get the license and there may be two or three additional approvals that are needed in some sectors.
"I feel Argentina is creating a business climate that is detrimental to itself as well. They could be laying the foundation for serious economic challenges,'' he said.
Sanchez also said the European economic slowdown is "clearly having an impact on world trade and our exports.''
To reach the president's export goal, which is supposed to support 2 million jobs, Sanchez said he is concentrating on three areas:
-- Technology -- A new, improved version of export.gov is expected to be introduced this summer. Export.gov, the International Trade Administration's website, offers information to help U.S. companies export.
-- Market analysis -- The government is doing a deep analysis of the dozen markets that offer exporters the most potential as well as trying to identify the sectors within those markets where U.S. products have a competitive advantage. The National Export Initiative concentrates on China, Brazil and India as the highest priority markets.
-- Partnerships -- "The idea is that we can touch a lot more businesses through partnerships'' not only with other government agencies that encourage trade but also organizations around the country that offer export training and promotion, Sanchez said. "If we do this right, we'll be able to leverage our partnerships to do a lot more than we could possibly do with our limited resources.''
The partnership concept was what brought him to Miami. Sanchez signed a memorandum of agreement Wednesday between Commerce's ITA and eight local partners who plan to work cooperatively to increase export awareness in the Miami business community.
There's work to be done, Sanchez said, because only 1 percent of U.S. businesses export, and of those, 58 percent export to a single market.
During a signing ceremony at PortMiami, Sanchez inked a partnership document along with representatives of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, PortMiami, World Trade Center Miami, the Florida Custom Brokers and Forwarders Assn., Miami-Dade County's Economic Development & International Trade Unit, the Florida Foreign Trade Assn., the Miami Free Zone, and the Florida International Bankers Assn.
The signing ceremony took place in conjunction with the ITA's Western Hemisphere Senior Commercial Officers Conference, which drew about 200 participants who export U.S. products in this hemisphere.
Even though Obama has announced plans to greatly expand the Trans Pacific Partnership, which includes the United States, and seems to be putting the Pacific Rim at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy, Sanchez pointed out that nearly 50 percent of U.S. global trade is still with the Western Hemisphere.
"While clearly the president has put attention on Asia, he hasn't done it to the detriment of the hemisphere,'' Sanchez said.
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