During the spring of 2012, the US Congress was considering eliminating the US Export-Import Bank(Ex-Im Bank) by not renewing its operating charter when it was scheduled to expire in June of that year.
At the time, it was inconceivable to those of us who deal in promoting US exports that the US government would even be thinking about eliminating their only profit-making agency, and one which is responsible for financing approximately $50 billion of US exports annually. By the way, those exports translate to approximately 255,000 US jobs according to statistics quoted by the bank’s Chairman and President, Fred Hochberg.
Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and the bank’s charter was extended for an additional two years through 2014. But in remarks made by Hochberg last week at the Center For American Progress in conjunction with the release of the bank’s 2012 Competitiveness Report, he made mention of the fact that there are voices in the Congress who are, once again, suggesting that Ex-Im Bank be closed down. Are they serious?
Of course, the argument is not stated that clearly or that simply. Rather. representatives of Congress have asked the US Treasury Department to begin negotiations with America’s competitors to end export credits. To be sure if every government in the world was playing by the same rules and if there was, indeed, a level playing field when it comes to promoting exports, the concept of eliminating export credits might make sense. But in the world in which we live this is hardly the case and, to quote Hochberg, this “would be a self-inflicted wound our economy cannot sustain.”
What always surprises me, of course, is the docile nature of the US business community when it comes to protecting government programs that really are beneficial to the overall economy. Where is the outrage and the deluge of letters of protest to members of Congress from those whose businesses would be dramatically affected by such a move? It strikes me as odd that some of the same people who will stand and be heard on every type of social issue are strangely silent when it comes to economic issues such as these.
This happened with the STEP (State Trade and Export Promotion) program of the US government as well. This relatively inexpensive federal program supplied matching funds to US states to assist them in their individual export promotion programs. The framework enabled states to subsidize participation by local companies in international trade shows, symposia and the like. Yet when the program was about to expire this year the business community in the US was silent. As a result the program will end with a whimper.
If America is truly committed to remaining competitive in the world, to continuing to represent a significantly large portion of the world’s GDP and to being able to provide its citizens with jobs, the business community needs to stand up and make its voice heard on issues that are critical to its continue world-wide competitiveness. Else, that community will have no one to blame but itself for its silence in the face of legislative threats to future progress. Let’s hope it is not too late to turn this around.