Bloomberg News

Obama Puts Focus on Companies in Driving Exports at APEC

November 16, 2011

(See EXT2 <GO> for APEC summit news.)

Nov. 12 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama’s meetings today with corporate executives such as Boeing Co.’s Jim McNerney may be just as vital to his drive to expand U.S. trade in Asia as his talks with regional leaders including China’s Hu Jintao.

Obama’s campaign to double U.S. exports as a way to create jobs and spur economic growth will be atop the agenda of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit he’s hosting in his birthplace of Honolulu today and tomorrow. As he promotes U.S. goods, Obama also is seeking to counter perceptions that his administration is hostile to business.

“Asia is really concerned about the partisanship in Washington and part of that narrative has looked like the administration is anti-business,” said Ernest Bower, director of the Southeast Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “If they believe that the White House is not supporting American business abroad then they know that could impact a vital source of growth and economic dynamism for them.”

The U.S. exported $326.4 billion in 2010 to the Pacific Rim in goods and services, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, up from $254.6 billion in 2009. That exceeded American exports to the European Union or to Canada. From 2000 to 2010, exports to the Pacific Rim rose 71.5 percent. Obama has set a goal of increasing U.S. goods and services exports from $1.57 trillion in 2009 to $3.14 trillion a year by the end of 2014.

Regulations

The U.S. president has come under criticism from Republicans in Congress as well as some corporate leaders, who say administration initiatives, such as revamping the U.S. health-care system and setting new rules for financial markets, are creating burdens. The late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, an Obama supporter, was one of several executives who voiced concern that the White House was creating obstacles to business growth, according to a biography of Jobs published shortly after his death.

Obama’s administration approved 613 rules during his first 33 months in office, fewer than the 643 issued by President George W. Bush’s administration in the same time period, according to Office of Management and Budget statistics.

Boeing is at the center of one of the examples cited by Obama’s critics. The National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against the Chicago-based planemaker in April saying it violated labor laws by deciding to build a 787 Dreamliner plant in South Carolina. The NLRB says Boeing’s move was retaliation for union strikes at company factories in Washington state. The Republican-controlled House passed legislation that would curb the labor board’s power to take such action.

Chilling Message

McNerney, Boeing’s chief executive officer who also serves as the head of the president’s export council, has said that being forced by the NLRB to locate the plant in Washington would send a chilling message to business and discourage international investment at home.

“Given the profound economic challenges before the nation -- from anemic growth to high unemployment -- there has not been a period in recent memory when a cooperative, productive relationship between industry and government was more needed than right now,” said Rob Nichols, CEO of the Financial Services Forum a Washington-based trade group representing the largest banks.

Asked about the complaint at a news conference in June, Obama said management and labor should be able to reach an agreement and declined to get into specifics, saying the NLRB was an independent agency.

“As a general proposition, companies need to have the freedom to relocate,” he said.

Tapping Asia

The main focus for Obama and McNerney when they sit down for a question-and-answer session on the eve of the APEC summit later this morning will be on ways the U.S. can tap into Asia’s economic potential.

So far in 2011, the U.S. has exported more to the Pacific Rim than to Europe, according to the Commerce Department. State Department figures show exports to the region supported 850,000 U.S. jobs last year. Chicago-based Boeing saw $64.3 billion in revenues in 2010 and of the $26 billion that came from outside the U.S., $10.3 billion was from Asia.

“Both the president’s engagement with Mr. McNerney, but also Boeing’s presence in the Asia Pacific and around the world makes it a natural fit to have that type of discussion,” said Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security “It’s allowing him to have a dialogue with the business community, allowing him to discuss his own export agenda.”

Before going to the APEC CEO summit today, Obama will meet with leaders from the nations seeking to pull together a Trans- Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

The current talks are with Australia, Chile, Peru and Singapore, all of which already have separate free-trade agreements with the U.S., as well as with Malaysia, New Zealand, Vietnam and Brunei. Two-way trade between the U.S. and those eight nations totaled $171 billion last year, compared with $457 billion with China, $181 billion with Japan and $88 billion with South Korea, according to the Commerce Department.

Later in the day he’ll hold separate individual talks with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of Japan, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Hu.

--Editors: Joe Sobczyk, Peter Hirschberg

To contact the reporters on this story: Julianna Goldman in Honolulu at jgoldman6@bloomberg.net; Margaret Talev in Honolulu at mtalev@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net


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