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Remarks by Ambassador Ron Kirk at the Annual District Export Council Conference

November 4, 2009
Annual District Export Council Conference
Washington, DC

*Key Excerpts from Prepared Text*


"The District Export Councils come from a long line of community-based commercial associations. More than 200 years ago, Chambers of Commerce already existed in New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. In 1831, when Alexis de Tocqueville conducted his now-famous tour of the United States, he found numerous associations dedicated to manufacturing and commerce. And by the turn of the 20th century new trade organizations were rapidly appearing across the nation. Their members came together much as you do today: to organize for better policy and to help each other to succeed.

The roots of the DEC run deep. But your mission is unique: DEC members are hand-picked and appointed by the Secretary of Commerce. You are community trade experts. And as experts, you help your neighbors by answering critical questions about the global marketplace.

And the questions you get are questions I hear all the time: What can trade do for my company? How can I take advantages of the benefits of trade? Can small businesses play a role in the international market?

That last one is especially important. Because it is easy to see the potential of small and medium-sized enterprises. Right now, these businesses account for 97% of American exporters, but only 30% of American exports. And we have to spread the word: small and medium-sized enterprises can succeed globally.
Just last week, I was in China for a meeting of the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade. I was there to talk about how we could grow our economic relationship and increase trade between our two countries, but it is amazing how many American enterprises - and that includes small businesses - are already doing business in China.

One of those small businesses is a company called Turf Merchants, which employs 14 people in Tangent, Oregon. Their company develops, produces, and markets grass seeds, and they sell those seeds around the world.

Today, they are shipped to more than 20 countries around the world, including China. And the Oregonians hard at work at Turf Merchants owe their jobs and their paychecks, at least in part, to trade.

Small businesses like Turf Merchants are major employers in many communities, and we know that they are economic drivers. In almost every community in America, big or small, rural or urban, a homegrown company is supporting jobs and families by engaging in international commerce.

You know that because you work with many of those companies in your own communities. You also know that economic worries at home can impede their ability to do business around the world. And right now, many Americans have no bigger economic worry than health care. That's why, to ensure that America's companies and workers can truly take advantage of all of trade opportunities, we must reform America's health insurance system. That is a trade priority. American businesses and workers can't take full advantage of job-creating trade opportunities as long as our health care system drains their resources.

The bottom line is: no family should lose their home and no business should go broke because someone gets sick in America. As President Obama has said, this isn't a Democratic issue or a Republican issue - it's a moral issue. The time for bickering is over. Now it's time to act.

President Obama's health insurance reform plan addresses three simple goals: If you have health insurance, it will give you more security and stability. If you don't have insurance it will give you quality, affordable options. And it will lower the cost of health care for our families, our businesses, and our government. To find out more about President Obama's plan for health care reform, I encourage you to visit healthreform.gov.

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USTR is working on all fronts to open up new avenues for trade. We are tapping new consumers abroad. We are working to guarantee American companies fair access to foreign markets and to ensure American workers get a fair shake under our trade agreements. And we are pursuing trade creating opportunities through the WTO, the Doha round, and bilateral negotiations.

Increasingly, small business owners and first generation companies are taking advantage of that work. They are making the leap to international commerce, and their employees are reaping the benefits.

We think that's a good thing, and we will continue to support their work in every way possible. Because I know that even though we talk about trade in the macro sense, trade happens in the micro sense - when a business in Montana, or Iowa, or Texas sells to a customer in Africa, Asia, or Europe.

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Now, I know that all of you here today already know the basics of trade. And not only are you knowledgeable, you are sharing your knowledge with others in your communities. But just as you are a resource to your neighbors, we want to be a resource to you.

Since I became the United States Trade Representative, I have taken unprecedented steps to make trade policy more open and accessible to all Americans. Tools like our website's ‘Ask the Ambassador' feature can help Americans to get answers. And we are constantly releasing the most up-to-date trade information, both through our traditional newsletter and through new media platforms like Facebook and Twitter - you can sign-up for all of those updates on our website, ustr.gov. I encourage you to take advantage of those resources to make sure that your advice to aspiring exporters is as informed as possible.

I also encourage you to visit export.gov, where you'll find experts on your industry and your clients' industries. They are on the ground in countries around the world, and they are ready and willing to share their insights. If a business in your community wants to sell cosmetics to Germany, you can find someone to help. If a local company wants to export garden equipment to Indonesia, you can find someone to help. If a telecommunications specialist comes to you with a question about expanding into Kenya, you can find someone to help. The possibilities are endless, and the resources are real.

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I encourage you to share your knowledge and enthusiasm for trade whenever you have the opportunity. I applaud your efforts and I promise you this: USTR is here to provide you with whatever support you may need, whenever you may need it.

Thank you all for your hard work and for joining me here today."