Guest Contributor William Krist- Obama’s Goal to Double Exports: A Midterm Analysis

Today’s report on the U.S. trade performance for May 2012 shows that the Obama Administration is roughly on track to achieve the President’s lofty goal of doubling U.S. exports over the five year period ending in 2014.  President Obama made this commitment, which would mean increasing exports from the 2009 level of $1.56 trillion to over $3 trillion, in his 2010 State of the Union address.  The objective of expanding exports is to promote U.S. employment, particularly in high paying manufacturing jobs.

To put this goal in perspective, exports just barely doubled in the ten years from 1999 to 2008. In fact, exports have not doubled over a five year period since the 1970s, and even then the doubling was mostly due to inflation.

Shortly after his 2010 State of the Union speech, Obama created the National Export Initiative and an Export Promotion Cabinet by executive order, giving them the responsibility of increasing U.S. exports.  While the Administration deserves a lot of credit for progress made to date, it needs to be noted that it is difficult to untangle the effects of U.S. export promotion activities from other uncontrollable effects such as changes in foreign demand and global business cycles, and the import policies of other countries.

Additionally, even as our exports have increased rapidly, U.S. imports have grown at an even faster rate. This means that the overall net effect of trade on our economy continues to be negative.  While doubling U.S. exports is a worthy goal, a better goal would be to achieve a balance of our exports and imports over the course of the business cycle.

For a more in-depth analysis of the Administration’s export initiative click here.

William K. Krist is a Senior Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center.  He is a former Senior Vice President of the American Electronics Association.  He has written extensively on trade, development, and the environment. Anthony Gausepohl is a Research Assistant at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

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