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American Shipper

Obama plugs export changes in Chamber speech

Obama plugs export changes in Chamber speech

   The U.S. government's investment priorities need to be in innovation, education and infrastructure building so that the economy has the foundation for long-term growth, President Obama told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week.

   The government can also level the playing field for companies by negotiating to eliminate trade barriers in other countries and by streamlining the domestic tax code and regulations, he said.

Obama

   Even bigger potential changes are in the works, with a proposal to consolidate and reorganize the dozen federal agencies that have a role in promoting U.S. exports, Obama said.

   'If we hope to help our businesses sell more goods around the world, we should ensure we're all pulling in the same direction. And frankly, with 12 different agencies in charge, nobody is in charge. So we're going to fix that as an example of how we can make a government that's more responsive to the American people and to American businesses,' the president said.

   The restructuring is designed to support his National Export Initiative, which has a goal of doubling exports by 2014, and could serve as a model for further reorganization of the federal government.

   Reworking trade deals with Panama and Colombia, and integrating Russia into the World Trade Organization will be the administration's top trade priorities, he said, adding, 'if we're out there selling and we're out there hustling, there's no reason why we can't do a lot better than we're doing right now when it comes to our exports.'

   Obama sounded similar themes in the State of the Union, speeches and other public statements in recent weeks in an effort to gain support from the business community to reinvest large cash balances and create jobs. He has:

   ' Hired William Daley from the financial sector to be chief of staff.

   ' Named Jeffrey Immelt, General Electric Chairman and chief executive officer, to lead a new Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

   ' Ordered a review to weed out unnecessary regulations.

   ' Proposed a freeze in discretionary federal spending for five years to bring down the deficit by $400 billion over a decade.

   ' Signed a revised free trade deal with South Korea.

   ' Given other pro-business signals, culminating with his visit to the Chamber.

   'But I want to be clear: Even as we make America the best place on Earth to do business, businesses also have a responsibility to America ' Ask yourselves what you can do to hire more American workers, what you can do to support the American economy and invest in this nation. That's what I want to talk about today '- the responsibilities we all have — the mutual responsibilities we have — to secure the future that we all share,' Obama said at the chamber.

   The president said his administration is fighting to expand research and development tax credits and otherwise support new technologies and entrepreneurs, as well as use federal money to attract further capital to upgrade 'outdated and inadequate infrastructure.'

   He thanked the chamber for pushing Congress to make more investments in transportation, water treatment, broadband and other types of infrastructure, while allowing private investors to participate in projects to make tax dollars go further.

   Obama said the government has to make room for those investments by cutting its deficit and fixing the tax code.

   The president asked businesses to take a balanced view of regulations.

   'Even as we eliminate burdensome regulations, America's businesses have a responsibility as well to recognize that there are some basic safeguards, some basic standards that are necessary to protect the American people from harm or exploitation. Not every regulation is bad. Not every regulation is burdensome on business. A lot of the regulations that are out there are things that all of us welcome in our lives' and often spark competition and innovation within the private sector, he said.

   'Of course, your responsibility goes beyond recognizing the need for certain standards and safeguards. If we're fighting to reform the tax code and increase exports to help you compete, the benefits can't just translate into greater profits and bonuses for those at the top. They have to be shared by American workers, who need to know that expanding trade and opening markets will lift their standards of living as well as your bottom line.

   'We can't go back to the kind of economy and culture that we saw in the years leading up to the recession, where growth and gains in productivity just didn't translate into rising incomes and opportunity for the middle class. That's not something necessarily we can legislate, but it's something that all of us have to take responsibility for thinking about,' Obama said.

   'And if we as a nation are going to invest in innovation, that innovation should lead to new jobs and manufacturing on our shores. The end result of tax breaks and investments can't simply be that new breakthroughs and technologies are discovered here in America, but then the manufacturing takes place overseas. That, too, breaks the social compact. It makes people feel as if the game is fixed and they're not benefiting from the extraordinary discoveries that take place here.'

   Obama provided several examples of near-shoring as companies realize the relative benefit of relocating manufacturing plants in the United States:

   ' Caterpillar is opening a new plant in Texas to build excavators previously shipped from Japan.

   ' Whirlpool is opening its first U.S. factory in more than a decade in Tennessee.

   ' Software maker Geomagic is closing down its overseas research and development centers in China and Europe and moving them to the United States.

   He urged companies to get off the sidelines, take advantage of the recent tax provision allowing all capital investments to be expensed and invest in business expansion.

   Obama's entire speech can be read here. ' Eric Kulisch