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Obama Talks Trade at Export Council Meeting

The president said he remains confident the U.S. will meet his goal of doubling exports over five years by the end of 2014.

WASHINGTON — President Obama said Tuesday he remains confident the U.S. will meet his goal of doubling exports over five years by the end of 2014, despite a significant slowdown in growth last year.

To meet that goal, Obama has laid out a more aggressive trade agenda, including a commitment to launching trade negotiations with the European Union this year. Addressing a meeting of his Export Council, Obama said he is “modestly optimistic” about concluding a trade deal with the EU and is aggressively pursuing a separate Asia-Pacific trade deal the administration hopes to conclude this year. Obama sought to strike a positive tone on exports. At the same time, another key White House official expressed disappointment about last year’s pace of growth.

“We have made an enormous amount of progress over the last year,” said Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to the President, at the council meeting. “What was a little disappointing was that exports lagged last year, probably due to what is going on…in both Asia and in Europe, but it just means we’ve got to keep our pedal to the metal even more so.”

U.S. exports hit $2.2 trillion in 2012, compared with $2.1 trillion in 2011, according to the Commerce Department. The pace of export growth has slowed considerably since 2010, when total U.S. exports were $1.83 trillion. Obama launched the National Export Initiative in 2009 to double exports in five years, which would mean total U.S. exports would need to grow to $3.14 trillion by 2015 from $1.57 trillion in 2009.

Textile and apparel export growth also slowed dramatically in 2012. Combined apparel and textile exports grew 1 percent in 2012 to $22.6 billion compared with 2011, according to data from the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles and Apparel. In 2011 the combined exports grew 14 percent to $22.4 billion versus 2010. And in 2010 apparel and textile exports increased 19 percent to $19.7 billion from 2009.

Despite the slowing pace of export growth, Obama said the U.S. will meet his goal by the end of 2014.

“The good news is we are well on our way to meeting a very ambitious goal that we set several years ago to double U.S. exports,” Obama said. “And what we know is that a lot of the growth, a lot of the new jobs that we’ve seen during the course of this recovery, have been export-driven.”

Obama said the Export Council and his team need to find ways to sustain the momentum, adding that one significant area is pursuing new trade deals. He pointed to the launch of talks with the EU and the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations between the U.S. and 10 other countries.

The trade relationship between the U.S. and EU is already significant. The U.S. exported $329 billion worth of goods to Europe in 2012 and imported $454 billion, according to the Commerce Department.

Obama said the timing is right for a U.S.-EU trade pact.

“What I think has changed is the recognition throughout Europe that it is hard for them to figure out a recipe for growth at this point, in part because of the austerity measures that have been put in place throughout the euro zone, in the absence of a more aggressive trade component,” he said. “So I think they are hungrier for a deal than they have been in the past.”

He also noted that the two sides have already narrowed some of their differences, particularly on Customs and regulatory issues.

“I think it will still be a heavy slog,” Obama added. “There’s no guarantee that in the end some of the countries that have been hard cases in the past won’t block it again, but I think that you’re going to see more pressure from more countries on the other side of the Atlantic to get this done than we’ve seen in the past.”