From NBC's Athena Jones
WASHINGTON, DC, Sept. 16 - Calling efforts to double U.S. exports over the next five years a top priority, President Obama said that helping American companies ship more goods and services abroad would add jobs, which are sorely needed amidst flagging GDP growth.
In a conference call with reporters yesterday previewing today's event, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said exports -- which are up roughly 18 percent this year -- are leading the recovery from the worst recession since the 1930s. The president said today that if exports grow at 14 or 15% a year, the goal of doubling them in five years would be achievable.
"The more American companies export, the more they produce and the more they produce, the more people they hire," Obama said during brief remarks at the beginning of the first meeting of the President's Export Council (PEC). "And that means more jobs -- good jobs that often pay as much as 15 percent more than average."
The economy grew just 1.6 percent in the second quarter, revised down from a previous forecast of 2.4 percent projected earlier, and the high unemployment rate will remain a key Republican talking point as midterm elections approach.
Among the recommendations on how to boost exports put forth by advisers to the president -- including Cabinet officials and heads of trade-related government agencies -- were expanding access to credit and to information on export opportunities for small and medium-sized companies, increasing trade advocacy and export promotion efforts, removing barriers to US goods and enforcing existing trade rules.
Businesses want to see the United States seal more trade deals, something the president addressed in his remarks.
"We're also working to resolve outstanding issues with our free trade agreements with our key partners, like Korea, and to seek congressional approval as soon as possible," he said.
Obama also spoke of plans to help troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan re-enter the workforce.
"I think it's terrific that we are going to look at a veterans retraining initiative that would help them translate their remarkable leadership skills but also their technology skills, skills they've honed in the military, into careers in the high-demand science and technology fields that will keep America economically strong and globally competitive well into the future," he said.
After the meeting, Locke joined Boeing President and CEO Jim McNerney and Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, the chair and vice chair of the PEC, respectively, outside the West Wing to take questions from reporters.
McNerney stressed the need for America to complete more free-trade agreements to keep from loosing market share to Europe, Asia and South American countries. He said some 600 trade agreements were being negotiated around the world, while the United States was working on agreements "in the single digits."