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Trade official: global economy is pushing U.S. businesses in not-so-obvious directions

By Howard Schneider
As head of the International Trade Administration, Francisco Sanchez will be one of the key players in the Obama administration's quest to double exports over the next five years.

A veteran negotiator -- he once tackled a border dispute in Latin America and also took a run at brokering talks with the FARC rebels in Colombia -- the undersecretary of commerce is focusing on a set of markets and issues that he feels could bring clear and quick returns.

Some are obvious, he said over breakfast on Wednesday. Eastern European countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic are preparing to invest in new nuclear power plants, and Sanchez recently led a delegation of representatives from the U.S. nuclear power industry to the region. There were no deals signed, but Sanchez did strike a cooperation agreement with the Polish government.

And pushing against trade barriers is a daily task -- be they explicit, such as a new requirement in Turkey that U.S. pharmaceutical companies be visited on-site by a Turkish inspector, or subtle measures, such as the awkward 2 a.m. landing time that American Airlines was given for a new route to Beijing.

But his underlying strategy, he said, tries to take stock of how the global economy is changing and to drive U.S. businesses in some not-so-obvious directions. Beyond the major emerging nations of China, India and Brazil, Sanchez said, the administration has a list of six nations where projected demand -- from the government or private sector -- dovetails with what the United States does well. Among those six -- Indonesia, Vietnam, Colombia, Peru, Turkey and Saudi Arabia -- heavy investment is expected in coming years on roads and ports, new power and water plants, and new hospitals and health care equipment.

Those countries will be shopping "in the areas where we excel," Sanchez said.

The other aim is to acclimate more U.S. businesses to selling overseas. It has become something of a mantra among trade officials: Only one percent of U.S. companies, the administration estimates, sell to a foreign country, and half of those have only one overseas destination.

Sanchez summed up that statistic in a word: "dismal."

By Howard Schneider  |  August 25, 2010; 12:38 PM ET
Categories:  International Economics  
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Next: Economic agenda: Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010

Comments

That last statistic is startling and damning. A nasty side effect of being the world's largest economy, and third-largest country overall, is that it was enough to focus internally for a business to be profitable. Those days are over for all except the smallest of businesses. America must change or its economy will decline inexorably.

Posted by: AnonymousBE1 | August 25, 2010 5:32 PM | Report abuse

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