Global competition in export credit financing remains increasingly formidable, with foreign competitors enjoying substantial support from their countries’ export credit agencies, as ITIF originally wrote in Understanding the Importance of Export Credit Financing to U.S. Competitiveness. The United States’ Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank) fills an important role in leveling the playing field for U.S. exporters by matching credit support that other nations provide to their exporters, thus preventing foreign exporters from enjoying undue advantage. This ensures that U.S. exporters are able to compete against foreign competitors based on the quality and price of their products and services, and not loose sales because a foreign government has helped a foreign competitor by providing superior financing terms to a potential buyer.
Unfortunately, the 2012 Report to the U.S. Congress on Export Credit Competition and the Export-Import Bank of the United States underscores just how much more other countries—and principally America’s top economic competitors in Europe and Asia—are investing in export credit financing, both as a share of GDP and—in China’s and Korea’s case—even current dollars.
In fact, in 2012, Korea, India, China, France, Germany, and Italy all invested more in new medium and long-term official export credit volumes than the United States did as a share of GDP. As a share of GDP, Korea invested ten times more in export credit financing than the United States did, while India invested almost three times as much, and China over two and a half times as much (see chart below). In terms of new medium and long-term official export credit volumes issued in 2012, China invested one-third more than the United States, as the country issued $45 billion in new export credit financing compared to the United States’ $31.3 billion. Korea ranked third in new export credit volume issued in 2012 with $22.6 billion.
But the Chinese figures continue a long trend of significant out-investment of the United States in export credit financing. In fact, from 2007 to 2012, China invested $259.1 billion in cumulative new medium and long-term official export credit volume compared to the United States’ $101.9 billion, according to U.S. Export-Import Bank data (see chart below). In other words, over the past six years, China has invested over two and a half times as much in export credit financing as the United States in current dollars—and well over five times as much as a share of GDP. And though Germany invested just slightly less in current dollars (about $15 billion less) than the United States from 2007 to 2012, as a share of GDP Germany still invested approximately four times more in export credit than the United States over this period.
This intensified foreign competition in export credit financing is just one more example of how America’s competitors have ramped up their efforts to win in global export markets. Yet, as Ex-Im Bank Chairman Fred Hochberg testified before the Senate Banking Committee in May 2011, the United States “is clearly outgunned when it comes to foreign [export credit] competition.” Therefore, the United States needs to continue to take seriously the challenges posed by the aggressive export credit financing policies of its top competitors and ensure that the U.S. Ex-Im Bank remains competitive, well-financed, and well-functioning.
Reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank will be on Congress’s docket in 2014, and it’s imperative that Congress not only move with alacrity to reauthorize the Bank, but also to adequately respond to intensifying foreign export credit competition by raising the Ex-Im Bank’s aggregate authorization limit to at least $200 billion. This does not mean that taxpayers would have to foot the bill for this increase in lending authorization, as ITIF writes in The Export-Import Bank Works for America: Responses for 18 Arguments for Cutting Ex-Im’s Authorization. The Ex-Im Bank is an independent federal government agency that operates at no cost to U.S. taxpayers and has in fact returned $1.6 billion to the U.S. Treasury above and beyond the cost of its operations over the past five years. Thus, increasing the Bank’s statutory lending authority from its $140 billion (by 2014) portfolio cap would not add to the national debt.
In summary, export credit financing is a critical tool for boosting U.S. exports, boosting U.S. job growth, narrowing the trade deficit, and revitalizing the U.S. economy. In 2011, Ex-Im Bank-backed transactions supported an estimated $41 billion worth of American exports and an estimated 290,000 American jobs at more than 3,600 U.S. companies. And, since 2008, the Ex-Im Bank has assisted in creating or sustaining more than one million American jobs. Many of these jobs are at SMEs; in fact, more than 85 percent of Ex-Im’s transactions in recent years have directly benefited small businesses. Thus, the Ex-Im Bank plays an invaluable role in enabling U.S. exporters to compete on a more level playing field in commercial markets where current and future competitors continue to enjoy aggressive support from their countries’ export credit agencies.
Yet some have argued that the United States should unilaterally abandon export credit financing activities on the principle that it constitutes industrial policy or government picking winners. Others fret because they don’t like the fact that Beijing’s or Seoul’s aggressive embrace of export credit financing is setting the terms and pace of global export financing policy—though it does. (Nor, as this blog has shown, are these countries the only ones that aggressively use export credit financing.) This would be akin to saying during the Cold War, “to let Moscow set the terms and pace of military spending in the United States is foolhardy at best.” Would anyone say that it’s okay and prudent to let China (or Russia before it) outinvest the United States in defense expenditures, moreover to unilaterally abandon our investment in a sound defense? But that’s exactly what those who advocate for the United States to unilaterally abandon the use of export credit financing activities are calling for. The simple reality is that America’s economic competitors are in the game to win and if the United States unilaterally disarms the U.S. Ex-Im Bank, the only result will be fewer U.S. exports and the jobs dependent on them.