Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Director General Suresh Kumar
U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service
Remarks at ANESA Senior Commercial Officers Conference
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
As prepared for delivery
Thank you, Ed, for that very kind introduction. We owe you, and the Minnesota District Export Council, a big debt of gratitude, not just for your support of this conference, but also for the great work you do every day with Minnesota exporters. In particular, I want to give a special thanks to two of your DEC members who are the co-chairs of this event, Shannen Bornsen and Sandy Renner.
I also want to thank Christian Reed, George Litman, Rachel Kreissl, Mary Joyce, Ryan Kanne, Amelia Goeppinger, and Star Schween for doing the difficult, and often thankless, work of putting this conference together. We could not have brought our 18 senior commercial officers from across Africa, the Near East, and South Asia and our 25 domestic trade specialists from our Export Assistance Centers across the Midwest to this conference without all of their efforts.
I am honored to be joined today by so many Minnesota businesses, as well as others from across the country, to share some thoughts about the President’s National Export Initiative.
Let me start off by telling you a little bit about my background. I was born and raised in India, the son of a military officer and a musician, and paid my way through universities in Delhi and Bombay. My aspiration growing up was to run a company in India, and the thought never crossed my mind that one day I would serve in the Administration of the President of the United States. My presence here today demonstrates what is so unique and special about the American story, as well as this Administration, in which more Indian-Americans have received presidential appointments than ever before.
After my economics and business education at Delhi and Bombay universities, I began a thirty year career in international business in India. From India, my family moved to Indonesia and Singapore, where I ran the businesses of major global companies. Ultimately, I settled in North America, first in Canada and then finally the United States, as the head of Worldwide Consumer Pharmaceuticals for Johnson and Johnson.
While a majority of my career has been spent running major American businesses, I have spent much of my last five years as an international development consultation, establishing public-private partnerships and leveraging economic development work to install and support sustainable initiatives and scalable businesses in Africa. Through my work in emerging markets, both as a businessman and as a consultant, I have seen first-hand the tremendous opportunities for U.S. businesses.
Emerging markets are already key trading partners for the United States and will continue to grow in importance. As international business has become increasingly globalized, emerging markets occupy key roles in the global supply chains that fuel economic efficiency, improve access to competitive products, and enhance consumer choice. However, emerging markets also tend to have higher levels of trade barriers, which means that U.S. companies will require greater support from the U.S. Government.
The changing global economy and the linkage between trade and job creation are exactly why President Obama created the National Export Initiative (NEI). The NEI is an unprecedented, comprehensive strategy aimed at doubling U.S. exports over five years, while creating two millions jobs here at home. The NEI leverages the resources of all the departments and agencies of the U.S. Government that support trade to better assist American businesses that want to sell their goods and services abroad.
At a time when unemployment remains at unacceptably high levels, boosting U.S. exports has become a national imperative. With traditional drivers of U.S. economic growth like domestic consumer and business spending facing stiff headwinds, it has never been more important for our companies to increase their sales to the 95 percent of the world’s consumers who live outside the United States.
In 2009 alone, Minnesota exported over $15 billion of merchandise. Minnesota is also home to over 6,300 exporters, 88% of which are small and medium-sized companies. However, the most compelling figure is this: approximately one out of every five manufacturing workers in Minnesota depends on exports for their jobs. That is why the NEI is such an important tool for job creation in states like Minnesota.
The NEI focuses on impacting three critical areas of international trade: trade promotion and advocacy; availability of credit and financing; and free and fair access to foreign markets.
First, this Administration is engaging in a more robust effort to expand trade promotion and advocacy in all its forms. As Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Director General of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service, I lead a team of over 1,500 trade professionals in 109 domestic U.S. Export Assistance Centers (USEACs) and 126 commercial offices located in our embassies and consulates in almost 80 countries. In the Africa, Near East, and South Asia region alone, we have offices in 33 cities across 20 countries.
Our offices serve as one-stop shops for U.S. exporters, providing a comprehensive toolkit of services – from market research to trade counseling, and from business matchmaking to trade advocacy. Let me give you a couple examples of the problem solving being done by the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service to support small and medium companies here in Minnesota:
- Milltronics, a CNC machine and process control equipment manufacturer, contacted our USEAC here in Minneapolis to request assistance regarding a payment issue related to their Chilean business partner. After receiving counseling and support from our offices in Minnesota and Chile, Milltronics was able to break the logjam, and have now exported $400,000 worth of machines and process control equipment to Chile.
- Another example is Paragon Store Fixtures, a manufacturer of retail display cases, which was put into contact with our Minneapolis office for guidance on the manufacturing specifications for the Finnish Maritime Association. As a result of the work by our offices in Minnesota and Finland, Paragon was able to successfully export over $100,000 worth of display fixtures to a Finnish boat manufacturer.
Whether it is such problem solving or connecting businesses to partners in different markets or it is developing a comprehensive business plan and linking you with financial institutions to secure credit, the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service does it all. You can learn more by talking with any of our staff at this conference. These trade professionals are the heart and soul of our operation. For more information, you can also call our Trade Information Center at 1-800-USA-TRADE, or visit us on the web at www.export.gov.
Second, the National Export Initiative will also improve access to credit, especially for small- and medium-sized businesses that want to export. The President has called upon the Export-Import Bank, which enables critical financing when private banks are unwilling or unable to do so, to increase its financing available for small- and medium-sized businesses by an additional $2 billion over the next year.
Third, the NEI will work to ensure that American companies have free and fair access to foreign markets. This Administration will aggressively enforce our current trade agreements and strengthen our existing relationships, and we’ll increase the government’s attention on removing barriers that are hampering U.S. companies.
One tool that brings together all of these elements is our trade missions, which help U.S. companies learn first-hand about global markets. Trade missions provide opportunities for U.S. companies to attend market briefings, participate in networking receptions, and have one-on-one business matchmaking appointments with pre-screened buyers and distributors. Trade missions offer access, clout and the prestige of being part of a U.S. government trade delegation. Trade missions also attract the attention of government officials, business leaders, and media in international markets.
The NEI will raise the profile of the 40 trade missions that the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service is organizing this year, by ensuring that many of them are led by top officials at the Department of Commerce and our partner agencies. In fact, just weeks after coming on board at the Department of Commerce, I led a diverse delegation of U.S. companies to Senegal and South Africa, which marked the first trade mission of the Obama Administration to Sub-Sahara Africa. Later this year, we have trade missions planned for India, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, among other markets.
One of America’s key strengths is our ability to create and sell products and services that help others around the world improve lives and livelihoods. The NEI will contribute to building a stronger economic foundation – both for America and the world – by building our trade relationships and dedicating more resources to connecting U.S. exporters with foreign buyers and distributers.
Simply put – through the National Export Initiative, American businesses that want to export are going to have a more vigorous partner in the U.S. Government.
Thank you for having me with you today.
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