America Needs a Fully Committed and Operational Export-Import Bank

December 18, 2017

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The U.S. Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank provides loan financing and insurance to foreign buyers of U.S. products, for over 80 years supporting export transactions that wouldn’t otherwise occur when commercial lenders are unable to accept the political or commercial risks inherent in certain deals. Businesses in the United States, small and large alike—as well as their employees—depend on the Ex-Im Bank, which since 2008 has supported over 1.4 million private-sector U.S. jobs, including 52,000 in FY 2016. In addition to supporting U.S. jobs, the Ex-Im Bank also benefits U.S. taxpayers, contributing nearly $4 billion to public coffers since 2009.

The Ex-Im Bank’s role in supporting high-value-added U.S. exports is more important now than ever, especially as international export competition continues to grow unabated, with other countries hungry to export their products and services to international markets and willing to provide extremely generous financial assistance to facilitate those transactions when necessary. Ninety-six export credit agencies are active worldwide today, and the most significant ones—those of America’s most important economic competitors—are significantly out-investing the United States. In fact, in 2016, the United States accounted for just 0.56 percent of the world’s new short-term official export credit and working capital volumes. America’s $3.7 billion of new short-term export credit was essentially 1/100th of China’s $375 billion, and a fraction of the $119 billion Korea invested, the $52.9 billion from Japan, or Canada’s $47.6 billion. In other words, despite the fact that the U.S. economy is 12.1 times larger than Canada’s, Canada invests 12.8 times as much in export credit as the United States. As a share of GDP, in 2016, Canada invested a remarkable 155 times more in short-term export credit than did the United States.

For its part, China invested more in short-term export credit in 2016 than the rest of the world combined. Likewise, considering other forms of trade-related investment support (e.g., medium and long-term (MLT) credits as well), China continued to provide more support than the rest of the world combined. China’s $34 billion of medium- and longer-term credit in 2016 led the world. In fact, China accounted for an estimated 55 percent of total global trade-related investment support in 2016, much of this to support exports of products manufactured as part of the country’s Made in China 2025 strategy and as the spear of its one-belt, one-road initiative that seeks to deepen trade linkages throughout Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. China also appears to be reintroducing the concept of “mixed credits” (i.e., blending standard export credit with development finance on the same—usually commercial—transactions). And we should never be in doubt about China’s goals regarding its export credit financing: to dramatically reduce the global market share of companies in advanced industries from competitor nations, many of which are in the United States.

Considering only medium- to long-term export credit, virtually all U.S. peers in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that invested in this category out-invested the United States in 2016, as U.S. investment fell 97 percent in this category. By contrast, MLT investment rose 198 percent in the United Kingdom, 141 percent in Sweden, 93 percent in Italy, and 24 percent in France in 2016. Still, Japan, Korea, and Germany led OECD countries in committing substantial volumes of investment support, accounting for more than 75 percent of the OECD’s $32 billion total in 2016.

These figures show that global export credit competition is here to stay. The United States must both recognize this reality as well as the fact that the important role the Ex-Im Bank plays in leveling the competitive playing field by taking financing terms off the table as a determinant when foreign buyers are choosing whether to purchase a U.S. or competing country product does not represent “crony capitalism.”

Let’s be clear: “crony capitalism” is a term that libertarian free-market ideologues use to tar any and all government programs to help businesses in America compete in a global marketplace that has never in U.S. history been as competitive, much of this a result of unfair foreign trade and commercial practices. Pro-growth, pro-competitiveness pragmatists are clear to distinguish between policies that help our companies compete globally (e.g., a lower corporate tax rate, support for workforce training, and in this case, support for export financing), and narrow deals driven home in the back rooms of Congress that only benefit businesses and not the broader U.S. economy. The Ex-Im Bank is the opposite of that.

Some supporters of unfettered “free markets” argue that we should just “unilaterally disarm.” If it’s wrong for us to “intervene” then we should just stop. This is akin to peace groups saying that war is wrong and if we just dismantle the U.S. military other nations will follow suit and we will have peace. Try telling that to Neville Chamberlain. That approach doesn’t work in military competition and it certainly doesn’t work in commercial competition.

Finally, some free-market opponents of the Bank will simply say that it doesn’t matter if our firms are able to compete in global markets. If they are out-supported by our commercial competitors, so what; we will just make other things. But as ITIF has pointed out, losing competitive advantage in advanced industries will dramatically harm our defense industrial base and with it our ability to defend our interests, will mean a significantly lower value of the dollar and the decline in living standards that brings with it, and will mean fewer above average-wage jobs for working Americans. Is this all worth losing over a commitment to ideological purity? Hopefully for our nation’s future, no.

That’s why it’s critical that the United States fields a robust and well-functioning Ex-Im Bank with a quorum of directors, which is needed to approve transactions exceeding $10 million. It’s also important that the Ex-Im Bank’s directors be steadfastly committed to endorsing, supporting, and arguing passionately for the roll the Ex-Im Bank plays, unlike Scott Garrett, a current Ex-Im board nominee, who once opined that the Ex-Im Bank “embodies the corruption of the free enterprise system.”

The lack of a quorum of directors at the U.S. Ex-Im Bank meant the Bank was only able to operate its short- and medium-term programs in 2016 and has resulted in more than $30 billion of potential transactions being stuck in the Bank’s pipeline, transactions that could be supporting as many as 200,000 more U.S. jobs. If President Trump is serious about revitalizing U.S. manufacturing, he should restore the Ex-Im Bank to effective operational status immediately, meaning appointing a full quorum of directors deeply and genuinely committed to supporting the important role the Bank plays.