Trump wants to close trade gap, but leaves export agency in limbo – the new york times

WASHINGTON — As trade tensions mount, an 84-year-old Washington institution could have been a powerful tool for President Trump. The institution, the Export-Import Bank, was created to help American companies compete overseas and bolster exports by providing cheap government-backed loans.

But the institution, which once financed multibillion-dollar projects, has been effectively crippled by the Trump administration. The bank has been without a chairman since Mr. Trump took office and the last of the bank’s five board members quit in March. Since 2015, it has not had the quorum of at least three members it needs to finance deals or projects worth more than $10 million.

The effective shuttering of the bank has put American manufacturers like Boeing and General Electric at a global disadvantage, prompting a frenzied lobbying campaign by business groups worried that the White House is undermining its own trade goals.

“The Export-Import Bank plays a vital role in supporting American companies as they work to sell their products to customers across the world,” said Neil Bradley, the executive vice president and chief policy officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “But as long as the seats remain vacant, U.S. businesses are at a disadvantage relative to global competitors.” Continue reading the main story

The bank was languishing before Mr. Trump took office, but it has worsened under his watch. Last year, Mr. Trump’s pick to oversee Ex-Im, Scott Garrett, a critic of the bank, was rejected by the Senate over concerns that he would close the agency. The other directors who were nominated by Mr. Trump remain stalled in the Senate, and the president has yet to pick a new leader to take the helm.

“I’m not sure he’s really being well served,” said Fred P. Hochberg, the most recent chairman of the bank, who departed in 2017. “If you want to be able to reduce trade deficits and you want to be able to export more, particularly capital goods, that’s what an Export-Import Bank does.”

In recent years, the bank has been barely functional. According to its most recent annual report, Ex-Im authorized just $3.4 billion of mostly short-term export credit in 2017. That is down from the $20 billion that it authorized in 2014, the last year that the bank was fully operational. The report points out that China provided $34 billion in medium- and long-term financing for its exports in 2016, underscoring the competitive disadvantage that the United States faces.

The bank’s crippling has been costly for both companies and their workers, including Boeing, which Mr. Trump has hailed as an emblem of American innovation. In the last two years, two deals involving the sale of its commercial satellites have been canceled and one was significantly delayed given the lack of a quorum at Ex-Im. The stalling of these deals alone has cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Restoring the Export-Import Bank to full strength is the single best thing Washington can do right now to build on the economic momentum of tax reform, shrink our trade deficits and level the playing field so American workers can win,” said Tim Keating, Boeing’s executive vice president for government operations. Photo