by David Hendricks
Texas led the nation in exports last year, selling a record-breaking $279.5 billion worth of goods abroad, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said Monday in San Antonio.
That marked a 183 percent increase over the Lone Star State’s export sales in 2003. It also beat Texas’ previous export record of $264.7 billion in 2012.
Last year, companies in the San Antonio-New Braunfels metropolitan area exported $19.3 billion in merchandise.
“More than 1 million Texas jobs are supported by trade,” Froman said. “Our job is to open more markets to exporters. Ninety-five percent of the world’s consumers live outside the United States.”
Texas’ largest trade partner was Mexico. The state’s manufacturers posted $100.9 billion in merchandise sales in Mexico in 2013, representing 36.1 percent of the state’s total merchandise exports.
Mexico was followed by Canada at $26.1 billion, Brazil at $10.9 billion, China at $10.8 billion and the Netherlands at $9.5 billion.
The state’s largest manufacturing export category was petroleum and coal products, which accounted for $60.6 billion of Texas’ total goods exports in 2013. Oil refiners have been helped by cheaper crude oil flowing in from the Eagle Ford Shale and the Permian Basin.
If Congress lifts an export ban on crude oil — as producers are pushing for — Texas’ export sales probably would jump significantly because of booming drilling activity in its shale regions.
Other top manufacturing exports were electronic products at $48.2 billion, chemicals at $47.9 billion, machinery at $30 billion and transportation equipment at $24.4 billion.
The numbers could improve if two trade agreements under negotiation go into effect, Froman said.
After four years of negotiations, the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership is near completion, he said.
“We clearly are in the end zone on TPP,” Froman said after meeting with about 30 invited business leaders and Mayor Ivy Taylor for 90 minutes Monday at the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce’s offices.
A few big issues — always saved for the end of negotiations — remain, Froman said, alluding to whether Japan will loosen restrictions on its agricultural imports.
“We are working around the clock bilaterally and unilaterally on the big issues that are left,” he said.
He declined to speculate on when the Pacific region and the U.S.-European Union trade talks, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, will conclude.
But U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, said, “These are important trade agreements we have to finish, and hopefully next year we’ll be voting on those.”
The Obama administration will need fast-track authority for both TPP and T-TIP from Congress before either trade agreement can stand a chance for enactment.
Froman said his office is in talks with key members of Congress. Once the potential benefits of the trade agreements are known, fast-track authority will stand a better chance of approval, he said. Fast-track requires Congress to take an up-or-down vote on negotiated trade agreements without amendments.
The U.S.-Europe trade talks began in 2013 and are expected to conclude at the end of 2014 or in 2015.
Froman characterized TPP as a renegotiation of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement because it incorporates the United States, Mexico and Canada. TPP also moves trade and environmental issues to the center of the agreement instead of being side pacts to NAFTA.
After Froman’s briefing to invited San Antonians on trade talks, a session closed to media coverage, San Antonio Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Richard Perez said he puts the odds of fast-track approval by the end of President Barack Obama’s term at 50-50.
The uncertainty “stems from the gridlock in Congress we see every day,” Perez said. “Everything we see about international trade is all good, but with the makeup of Congress, a few can hold up the majority. The challenge is to convert the few and show them the benefits of trade.”
The chamber usually communicates its policy preferences with local members of Congress, Perez said, but might begin lobbying nonlocal members when it comes to broadening U.S. trade agreements, Perez said.
“It’s a big project for the entire nation,” he said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Export-Import Bank, which finances international trade exchanges, has come under fire in recent months from members of Congress. The bank’s charter was due to expire Sept. 30.
But in mid-September, Congress authorized an extension for the bank, but only for nine months.
“It’s important we get a long-term authorization of Ex-Im Bank,” Froman said when asked if the bank would survive after the extension. “The bank supports a lot of small businesses.”
While members of Congress have called the Ex-Im Bank “corporate welfare,” Perez noted, more than 20 other countries operate similar banks “because they work.”
While in San Antonio, Froman toured cloud-computing company Rackspace Inc. and Concord Supply, a manufacturer of packaging material.
David Hendricks is a business writer and columnist for the San Antonio Express-News