It didn’t receive as much publicity as many other recent stories originating in the nation’s capital, but a potentially key development for our industry occurred in early May when the U.S. Senate voted to confirm three board members to the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im).
The immediate significance for the organization itself is that restoration of a quorum means the bank can authorize transactions larger than $10 million (which would be the vast majority of its dealings). It had been more than three years since the bank’s board had a quorum, which left it unable to approve larger projects – and which in turn stopped the bank from authorizing long-term financings.
The Ex-Im Bank’s primary business is backing low-interest loans for the export of U.S.-made goods. As many Seafarers know, cargo generated by the bank is carried on American-flag ships, so that’s why the quorum restoration matters to us.
But it also matters to our nation as a whole. Founded in 1934, the bank helps maintain good American jobs, and it 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.”
Those numbers make it all the more maddening when opponents claim to see the bank as so-called corporate welfare and a drain of tax dollars. The facts simply do not support their argument, but it still took years for Washington to do the right thing.
By the way, there are 60 or so other nations with similar institutions to promote their goods for export around the world, which somehow is rarely if ever acknowledged by critics. In that regard, the fights over Ex-Im remind me of the battles concerning the Jones Act, our nation’s freight cabotage law. Opponents attempt to conveniently overlook the fact that 91 other countries maintain some form of cabotage regulation.
As with other political scrapes involving laws and programs that boost the U.S. Merchant Marine, our work supporting the Ex-Im Bank definitely isn’t finished. The bank’s charter is up for renewal in September, and it’s a safe bet it’ll only happen if the American maritime industry and other backers step up with grassroots mobilizations.
For now, though, the recent confirmations are worth celebrating. As Ambassador Jeffrey D. Gerrish, Ex-Im chairman and president put it: “This is a great day for U.S. exporters, their workers, and their suppliers across the country. Ex-Im has nearly $40 billion worth of export deals in the pipeline that can move forward in support of hundreds of thousands of American jobs. The Senate’s bipartisan votes today renew opportunities for U.S. exporters to compete on a level playing field in markets and industries where China and other nations are aggressively supporting their exporters. 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.”
I occasionally encourage LOG readers to check out specific articles, and this is one of those times. Take a look at this month’s coverage of the newest class of recertified stewards, and see what they say about the SIU as well as the Paul Hall Center.
You certainly don’t have to complete a recertification class in order to have informed opinions on the union or school, but those members generally are experienced and insightful. They speak from the heart, and they always leave me feeling energized and encouraged about our future.