By Doug Palmer
July 22, 2009
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke on Wednesday laid out a plan to boost U.S. exports, which have fallen nearly 19 percent in the first five months of the year due to weak foreign demand.
"We … see real opportunities to grow U.S. exports across our entire economy, from large corporations to small and medium-sized businesses," Locke said in remarks prepared for delivery to the Washington International Trade Association.
The new steps include a review of decades-old U.S. export controls that restrict sales of high-technology products, and making it easier for foreigners to get visas to visit the United States to do business deals, Locke said.
Other priority areas are better promotion of U.S. exports and strengthening international intellectual property rights protections to reduce piracy and counterfeiting of goods that cost U.S. companies overseas sales, he said.
"Our Cold War-era export control system has constrained both U.S. commercial and military capabilities from expanding into new fields and from applying new scientific developments," Locke said, echoing a concern of many business groups that outdated security controls limit U.S. exports.
Visa delays are another example of bureaucratic red tape that hamper U.S. exports, Locke said.
"The Association of Equipment Manufacturer Executives has reported that its members lose one in three Chinese buyers invited to attend major U.S. trade shows because their visas are denied," Locke said.
Historically it has taken only a few weeks to process business visas, but "recently the time has stretched to as much as four months," Locke said.
The U.S. government also "can do a lot better" when promoting U.S. exports through its 1,500 commercial service officers stationed all over the world, Locke said.
"This is a potent asset for United States businesses that has a lot of untapped potential," he said.
Every year, American companies in fields ranging from energy and technology to entertainment and pharmaceuticals lose between $200 billion and $250 billion because of counterfeiting and piracy of their goods, Locke said.
"This is simply unacceptable," Locke said, adding the Commerce Department would work with Congress to help shape legislation on the issue.
(Reporting by Doug Palmer; editing by Anthony Boadle)