4 Min Read
* No timetable for free trade pacts with Colombia, Panama
* Report recommends increasing U.S. trade missions abroad
* Republicans say Obama strategy not ambitious enough (Updates with Republican response, 9-10)
By Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON, Sept 16 (Reuters) - The Obama administration laid out details of a strategy to double U.S. exports over five years on Thursday, recommending ways to boost commerce but steering clear of timetables for advancing stalled free-trade agreements.
The release of the National Export Initiative report, produced by President Barack Obama's "export promotion cabinet" of top advisers and government agencies, sought to highlight the administration's efforts to support the struggling economy and create jobs, the top issue before the Nov. 2 elections.
"Exports are actually leading our economic recovery," Commerce Secretary Gary Locke told reporters on a conference call before the report's release. He noted that exports were up roughly 18 percent over the same period last year.
"The more that American companies export, the more they produce. The more they produce, the more people they hire. And that means more jobs," he said.
U.S. officials said opening markets and enforcing existing trade pacts were part of the process of increasing exports. But the report did not lay out a timeline for wrapping up free-trade pacts with Colombia and Panama, an omission that congressional Republicans criticized.
Obama has said he wants to resolve outstanding concerns over a free-trade agreement with South Korea by November so he can submit it to Congress by early next year.
"On Panama and Colombia, (Obama) has similarly said that we hope to be able to resolve the outstanding issues and bring them forward whenever that's feasible," White House deputy national security adviser Michael Froman said on the call.
"The report does not specify a timetable beyond that."
Republicans on the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee said the lack of deadlines for approving the Panama and Colombia agreements and finishing negotiations on a new Trans-Pacific Partnership Pact raised questions about the likelihood of Obama's goal of doubling exports.
"If the President is serious about creating jobs by increasing exports, we must be much more ambitious than what is laid out in this report. The President has allowed the Colombia and Panama agreements to languish for far too long. It is time we start work on those agreements, while we continue to prepare the US-South Korea agreement for final approval," Representative Dave Camp said.
Obama has made expanding trade a priority among his limited tools to jump-start economic growth and battle nearly double-digit unemployment, factors that could cost his Democrats their majorities in one or both houses of Congress in November elections.
U.S. exports would need to grow from $1.57 trillion in 2009 to $3.14 trillion by 2015 to meet Obama's goal of doubling over five years, the report said.
The report's recommendations include:
* An "outreach campaign" to raise awareness among small and medium sized companies about export opportunities and available government assistance.
* Implementing a "government-wide export promotion strategy" for markets in Colombia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey and Vietnam.
* Increasing U.S. trade missions abroad.
* Bringing more international buyers to U.S. trade shows and boosting participation of U.S. companies in international trade shows. (Additional reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Philip Barbara)