When longtime International Association of Machinists (IAM) executive Owen Herrnstadt received U.S. Senate confirmation last summer to serve at the U.S. Export-Import Bank, he realized it didn’t quite sound like the culmination of a childhood dream.
But it’s truly a great fit, Herrnstadt told the Maritime Trades Department (MTD) Executive Board during a Feb. 16 speech near Orlando, Florida.
Believed to be the first person from the labor movement to be appointed to the bank’s board of directors, Herrnstadt said colleagues expressed surprise that he wanted the job.
“But if you look closer at the actual mission of Ex-Im, it’s easy to see why someone like me – someone who was raised in and by the labor movement – would want a position at the bank,” he explained. “The bank’s explicit mission (is) to support U.S. jobs. Our congressional charter says, the Export-Import Bank … objectives and purposes shall be to aid in financing and to facilitate the exports of goods and services between the United States and any foreign country, and in doing so shall be to contribute to the employment of U.S. workers. We take that mission very, very seriously.”
He said one way the bank fulfills its mission is by supporting “the U.S. maritime industry and U.S. maritime workers that make the industry so great.” He added that the rationale for the laws reserving Ex-Im cargoes for U.S.-flag, U.S.-crewed ships is straightforward: “In times of vulnerable supply chains and economic insecurity, these rules are critical for our nation’s economic and physical security, which depend on the U.S. maritime industry, U.S. maritime workers, and, of course, U.S. maritime unions.”
He continued: “This is especially true in the past few years in the wake of increasing global competition as other countries continue to utilize robust industrial policies that support their own industries, including their own maritime industries; accelerating competition from countries that don’t always play by the rules – like China – and expanding global supply chains in off-shoring that has exposed the vulnerability of our nation’s economic security, which has been highlighted during the pandemic. That is why Ex-Im is one of the core players in the Biden administration’s efforts to rebuild manufacturing and bring supply chains home.”
Immediately prior to Herrnstadt’s remarks, the MTD adopted a statement supporting the bank. In part, the statement reads as follows:
Sometimes overlooked and often misunderstood, the U.S. Export-Import Bank nevertheless is a crucial source of good jobs for American workers. It’s also a money-maker for the government, which is among the reasons it has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support.
While the lender has experienced issues recently with funding and director vacancies, the Ex-Im Bank has been able to reach a quorum of board members since May 2019. In that time, the bank has resumed its primary duty: backing low-interest loans for the export of U.S.-made goods. As we all know, the goods generated by the bank are carried on American-flag ships, which means jobs for mariners, and support for the nation’s cargo preference laws.
Founded in 1934, the bank helps maintain good American jobs, and generates significant money for the U.S. Treasury. It’s an independent federal agency which, according to its mission statement, “promotes and supports American jobs by providing competitive and necessary export credit to overseas purchasers of U.S. goods and services. A robust Ex-Im can level the global playing field for U.S. exporters when they compete against foreign companies that receive support from their governments. Ex-Im also contributes to U.S. economic growth by helping to create and sustain hundreds of thousands of jobs in exporting businesses and their supply chains across the United States. In recent years, 90 percent of the total number of the bank’s authorizations has directly supported small businesses. Since 2000, Ex-Im has provided $14.8 billion to the U.S. Treasury after paying for all of its administrative and program expenses.”
The U.S. is not alone in providing export credit to domestic shipping companies: More than 60 other nations use similar institutions to promote their goods for export around the world. But as with other political scrapes involving laws and programs that boost the U.S. Merchant Marine, our work in raising awareness on the vital nature of the Ex-Im Bank is never finished.
As stated by Jeffrey D. Gerrish, former Ex-Im Bank Chairman and President, “With Ex-Im restored to full functionality, our exporters again have a fighting chance to win export sales on the fair basis of quality and price instead of on the availability of government-backed financing.”
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