Obama promoting steps to boost US trade

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — President Barack Obama is outlining new steps to boost U.S. exports during a visit to a Boeing assembly plant in Washington state, calling on Congress to continue financing a national export credit agency crucial to a goal of doubling exports by 2014.

Obama was touring the Boeing facility in Everett on Friday, promoting foreign trade and manufacturing at the end of a three-day trip that included a stop at a Milwaukee padlock manufacturer.

Congress extended the Export-Import Bank's authorization through May of this year, but White House officials said the bank will reach its lending limit at the end of March. Obama has pointed to the bank as a key player in helping promote U.S. exports.

At the same time, Obama was announcing that Boeing will participate in an Export-Import Bank program that helps companies advance money to suppliers on export-related contracts. Administration officials said Boeing would be committing to more than $700 million in short-term credit this year. Officials said the arrangement would help Boeing compete for foreign clients against European jet maker Airbus.

Officials said the administration intends to use the Export-Import Bank to help U.S. companies counter foreign companies that are getting unfair assistance from their governments.

Facing re-election, Obama has pointed to a decline in unemployment and touted a recent boost in manufacturing jobs as an indicator of an economy on the mend. Republicans seeking the White House have accused Obama of failing to steer the economy out of a deep recession, setting up the health of the nation's economy as a pivotal issue in the 2012 election.

In remarks prepared for delivery Friday, Obama said the country was on track to meet a goal of doubling exports over a five-year period "ahead of schedule." But he said the U.S. needed to take more steps that will "help more American businesses sell their products around the world, create jobs right here at home and help us build an economy that lasts."

Obama was unveiling a number of steps aimed at boosting foreign trade, including:

— A pilot program called Global Credit Express to help small business exporters apply for up to a 1-year loan of up to $500,000.

— A simplified process for foreign trade zones, which allow companies to use special procedures to delay or reduce duty payments on foreign merchandise.

— A website called BusinessUSA making it easier for companies to access information to help their businesses grow.

In addition to the trade announcement, Obama was holding two fundraisers in the Seattle area Friday, including a fundraising luncheon with 65 people at the Medina home of Jeff Brotman, the co-founder of retailer CostCo. Tickets for the event cost $17,900.

Obama also was appearing at a reception with 450 supporters in Bellevue, with a musical performance by the band The Head and the Heart. Tickets started at $1,000. Both events were supporting the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee of Obama's campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

In October, the president signed off on free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, a move that could be worth billions of dollars to American exporters and generate tens of thousands of jobs.

In November, Obama presided over a deal that will send Boeing planes to Lion Air, a private air carrier in Indonesia, the largest commercial plane order in Boeing's history. Lion Air ordered 230 airplanes and the White House said the transaction would support tens of thousands of jobs in the United States.

Republicans have said the Obama administration has moved too cautiously in finding new trade partners, putting U.S. exporters at a disadvantage with foreign competitors. The administration has sought to pursue free trade while ensuring that basic worker and environmental rights are preserved and U.S. job growth promoted.

Obama's visit to the Boeing plant comes a few months after the National Labor Relations Board dropped a high-profile lawsuit against the company over allegations it built a nonunion plant in South Carolina to retaliate against past union strikes in Washington state.

The board halted the case after the Machinists union approved a four-year contract extension with Boeing, which plans to build the new version of its 737 airplane in Washington state. Republican presidential candidates seized upon the case, accusing the NLRB of threatening a new Boeing factory in South Carolina.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that Obama's visit would be focused on manufacturing and trade promotion and had "nothing to do with" the NLRB case.

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