When President Obama gives his State of the Union address next week, he’ll talk about community colleges, immigration, and global trade.
Here’s one thing he probably won’t bring up: his undelivered promise on significant export growth.
“We need to export more of our goods,” stated President Obama in his State of the Union speech in 2010. “So tonight, we set a new goal: We will double our exports over the next five years.”
Now that five years have passed, we can compare the President’s rhetoric to his results. Unfortunately, it looks like the rhetoric won.
In 2009—the last full year of statistics before President Obama made his 2010 pledge—the United States exported $1.58 trillion in goods and services, according to the Department of Commerce. Meeting the President’s five-year goal would require exports of $3.16 trillion in 2014.
It’s too soon to know precisely how much the United States exported last year, but we can say one thing with absolute certainty: The numbers won’t come close to President Obama’s target.
In 2013, the United States exported $2.27 billion in goods and services. Through November of 2014, exports were up about 3 percent from a year earlier. So if prevailing trends continued through December, total exports for 2014 will rise to about $2.34 trillion.
That’s a lot of exports. Yet it’s also only 74 percent of the way toward Obama’s goal.
Let’s be clear about one thing. Even the most partisan Congressman or citizen should take no pleasure from this missed goal. Exports are important to us all. They boost economic prosperity here at home, maintaining and creating jobs in our factories and on our farms.
When President Obama announced his goal five years ago, my first thought was to cheer him on and wonder what we could do to help.
At the time, the President offered an idea. “To meet this goal,” he said in 2010, “we’re launching a National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small businesses increase their exports.”
Today, the National Export Initiative has a spiffy website, with lots of information about how exports help our economy. Yet a close look at its talking points reveals that most of the growth in exports over the last five years has been a function of ordinary business cycles, rather than anything politicians in Washington or elsewhere have done.
The administration hasn’t done much in the one area where it has the most potential to push exports: negotiating free-trade agreements. President Obama has yet to conclude a single free-trade accord on his own. He deserves credit for working with Congress to finalize deals with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea, but those talks were negotiated under President Bush.
The good news is that President Obama may be on the verge of a major achievement. For years, American trade diplomats have worked on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a potential accord with 11 other nations around the Pacific Rim, including Australia, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia – a number of which I have been able to personally visit. TPP could generate more than $120 billion in American exports per year by 2025, according to an estimate from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
The completion of TPP should be one of Washington’s most important objectives this year. Both Democrats and Republicans have their parts to play. President Obama must encourage trade diplomats to get it done. Congress ought to approve Trade Promotion Authority, a legislative tool that would allow the White House to submit a finished agreement to Congress for an up-or-down vote.
Although TPP would be a noteworthy achievement, Obama would really burnish his legacy if he were to follow the successful completion of TPP by finishing a robust trade agreement with the European Union. These negotiations are already underway, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. I’m hopeful that a successful agreement would provide consumers in the EU the option to buy the beef and wheat that I grow on our farm.
It’s too bad that exports haven’t doubled over the last five years. During next week’s State of the Union address, we’ll probably hear more talk about the benefits of trade.
What we really need from President Obama is a promise he can keep—a commitment to lift U.S. exports with free-trade agreements.
Hope Pjesky and her family are farmers / ranchers in northern Oklahoma where they raise cattle and wheat. Hope volunteers as a board member for Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).