SALT LAKE CITY — People looking for the U.S. economy to continue to rebound need only look outside the country's borders, a top commerce official said Tuesday.
Speaking at the Zions Bank ninth annual Trade & Business Conference, Francisco J. Sanchez, undersecretary of commerce for international trade in the U.S. Department of Commerce, noted that 95 percent of the world's consumers live outside of the United States.
"If we don't grow the export sector, we can't have the vibrant economy that we want and need," he said.
With the national economy growing at an annualized 3 percent rate, "we have a lot of ground to make up, but we are definitely heading in the right direction," he said. However, exports, at 13 percent of the national gross domestic product before the recession, need to increase in order to create jobs.
To that end, President Barack Obama's National Export Initiative seeks to double exports during the next five years as a means to support 2 million jobs, bringing export job levels back to more than 10 million, the same as two years ago.
Obama's Export Promotion Cabinet and other activities are designed to increase trade promotion and "back up" more funding for exports, Sanchez said.
One goal is to boost the number of exporting companies. While there are 275,000 now, that figure represents a mere 1 percent of U.S. companies. And 58 percent of that group exports to a single international market.
The administration will not make a push for every market, but rather will promote five-year plans for China, Brazil, India, Vietnam, Indonesia and South Africa — those with the "best shot" for U.S. businesses, he said.
A two-year high of $1.6 trillion in exports in 2009, retail sales rising in April for the seventh consecutive month, growth in industrial production and inventories, and business sales up for six straight months "can make us feel optimistic, but we still have to work harder," Sanchez said.
"The president's National Export Initiative is more than a concept for discussion about the global economy. The NEI is a real-time that … can be decisive in growing the American economy," he said.
"Right here in Utah, you saw the sales of your products to other countries jump 65 percent in the first three months of 2010. Utah businesses sold $3.5 billion in exported goods from January to March. The successes here underscore the importance and the multiplier value that partnerships with entities like Zions Bank bring to the core tenet of the NEI, and that is increasing and strengthening American jobs through the broadening and deepening of the U.S. export base."