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Jobs, jobs, jobs: For Obama, they lie in more exports

Forget the jobs bill. Obama's plan to boost exports by breaking down foreign trade barriers is the fastest way to employ jobless American. But will Obama be tough enough for the task, especially with China?

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President Obama plans to create 2 million new jobs within five years by doubling – yes, doubling – US exports. To achieve that stunning goal will require him to bang forcefully on the doors of many countries that now block American goods and services.

Is Mr. Obama up to it?

“Commercial diplomacy,” to use a polite phrase, isn’t for the faint of heart.

Japan (or rather “Japan Inc.”) used stealthy means over decades to open markets for its goods. In the past decade, China has imitated Japan in many ways, by discriminating against foreign goods, poaching patents, heavily subsidizing exporters, and setting unfair currency rates. It now accounts for about a fifth of goods that Americans import.

Opening foreign markets is a task that has stymied many US presidents. Obama’s goal of doubling exports by 2014 would require a rate of increase not achieved by the United States since the 1970s.

But the payoff could be big. Exports as a share of the US economy are now three times higher than a half century ago. They are 11 percent of gross domestic product, support 10 million jobs, and often pay higher wages. Some economists estimate that more than half of the US economic growth in the last half of 2009 came from exports.

Breaking down trade barriers may be Obama’s best path to his goal of creating 95,000 jobs a month. Smaller US firms – the biggest job creators – need special help in learning how to sell abroad. Less than 1 percent of American companies sell abroad, and of those that do, most sell to only one country.

As if in a war, Obama issued an executive order Thursday that includes bold steps to ensure, as he put it, “a level playing field” for US exports.

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