Can Obama really double exports in five years?

At his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama swore to double U.S. exports in five years. At the time,  some pundits (including one here) scoffed at the idea. Doubling exports, of course, means convincing the world to buy twice as much of the stuff the U.S. produces. That will be no easy feat, ...

572523_page00012.jpg
572523_page00012.jpg

At his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama swore to double U.S. exports in five years. At the time,  some pundits (including one here) scoffed at the idea. Doubling exports, of course, means convincing the world to buy twice as much of the stuff the U.S. produces. That will be no easy feat, particularly given that just about every high-income economy is looking for an export-led recovery.

But it is a feat that has been accomplished before. I used Commerce Department trade data to make the above graph. It turns out, the last time the United States had a year that doubled its trade level from five years before was 1981; the average five-year increase is around 140 percent. 

Still, Obama's plan to double the number by 2015 does not seem so far-fetched. For one, trade has fallen due to the recession, meaning the United States needs to double a lower-than average number. 

At his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama swore to double U.S. exports in five years. At the time,  some pundits (including one here) scoffed at the idea. Doubling exports, of course, means convincing the world to buy twice as much of the stuff the U.S. produces. That will be no easy feat, particularly given that just about every high-income economy is looking for an export-led recovery.

But it is a feat that has been accomplished before. I used Commerce Department trade data to make the above graph. It turns out, the last time the United States had a year that doubled its trade level from five years before was 1981; the average five-year increase is around 140 percent. 

Still, Obama’s plan to double the number by 2015 does not seem so far-fetched. For one, trade has fallen due to the recession, meaning the United States needs to double a lower-than average number. 

Obama started to detail how he plans to double exports at the annual conference of the Export-Import Bank today. First: panels. He is creating an "export promotion cabinet" including representatives from state, treasury, agriculture, commerce, and other agencies, and creating an "export council" with adivsers from the private sector. Second: trade regulation reform, to make it easier for businesses to put products and offer services on the global market. Third: better governmental  promotion of small- and medium-sized businesses.

Annie Lowrey is assistant editor at FP.

More from Foreign Policy

Oleg Salyukov salutes to soldiers during Russia’s Victory Day parade.
Oleg Salyukov salutes to soldiers during Russia’s Victory Day parade.

Stop Falling for Russia’s Delusions of Perpetual Victory

The best sources on the war are the Ukrainians on the ground.

A fire rages at the Central Research Institute of the Aerospace Defense Forces in Tver, Russia
A fire rages at the Central Research Institute of the Aerospace Defense Forces in Tver, Russia

Could Sabotage Stop Putin From Using the Nuclear Option?

If the West is behind mysterious fires in Russia, the ongoing—but deniable—threat could deter Putin from escalating.

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi is received by his Kenyan counterpart, Raychelle Omamo, in Mombasa, Kenya.
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi is received by his Kenyan counterpart, Raychelle Omamo, in Mombasa, Kenya.

While America Slept, China Became Indispensable

Washington has long ignored much of the world. Beijing hasn’t.

A bulldozer demolishes an illegal structure during a joint anti-encroachment drive conducted by North Delhi Municipal Corporation
A bulldozer demolishes an illegal structure during a joint anti-encroachment drive conducted by North Delhi Municipal Corporation

The World Ignored Russia’s Delusions. It Shouldn’t Make the Same Mistake With India.

Hindu nationalist ideologues in New Delhi are flirting with a dangerous revisionist history of South Asia.