Taxes, trade barriers cited as obstacles to boosting U.S. exports

By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 3, 2009; 5:23 PM

Presenting the idea that more American exports would create more American jobs, National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers asked a group of business leaders and economists Thursday how the country might double within five years the proportion of exports from the U.S. economy.

There was a flood of answers, but two predominated.

Lower the corporate tax rate, as Walt Disney chief executive Robert Iger proposed, with FedEx founder Fred Smith and others concurring.

Lower the trade barriers that prevent U.S. goods from entering foreign markets, several said.

If those and other efforts aren't undertaken, Smith warned, "you can't, in my opinion, be competitive in the export sector."

The idea of lowering the corporate tax rate didn't get much of a reaction from the moderators of the group, Summers and Fred Hochberg, chairman of the Export-Import Bank. Hochberg noted, "We've heard a lot about taxes."

The corporate chiefs said U.S. companies were at a competitive disadvantage against companies in countries with lower taxes. But in his summary, Summers focused on trade barriers and other issues.

Among the attendees were Ursula Burns, the chief executive of Xerox Corp.; James Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters; Farooq Kathwari, chairman and chief executive of Ethan Allen; James McNerney, chairman and chief executive at Boeing; John Surma, chairman and chief executive of U.S. Steel Corp.; and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman.

Many on the panel advocated trying to make it easier for U.S. products to win favor overseas -- by lowering tariffs, easing customs hassles and better balancing the dollar against Asian currencies. But there was no consensus on what exactly might be done. Hoffa noted the prevalent pessimism about trade agreements, quoting some of his own constituency: "NAFTA, CAFTA, and the workers got the shafta."

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