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Hillary Clinton tells U.S. businesses 'we need to up our game' abroad

From Jill Dougherty, CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent
  • Secretary of State Clinton speaks to business leaders
  • U.S. embassies are instructed to stand up for American business interests abroad, she says
  • "Commercial diplomacy" is being used to help U.S. companies compete, Clinton says
  • Clinton pushes three new trade agreements as a way to create new American jobs

Washington (CNN) -- Claiming U.S. foreign policy can create American jobs at home, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Tuesday urged U.S. companies to "roll up their sleeves, get out there and engage with the economic opportunities that are emerging across the world."

Speaking in Washington to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition -- which brings together business leaders from around the country -- Clinton said American businesses "need to up our game."

U.S. foreign policy, she argued, "must be a force for economic renewal here in America" and can create jobs -- an overriding concern for the Obama administration, which just released a jobs report that shows unemployment rose to 9.2% in June and that the economy generated just 18,000 new jobs.

"We need American business to recognize the long-term stakes as well as the short-term rewards." Clinton said. She warned that if the U.S. does not seize the opportunities available today, "other countries will."

"Other countries will fight for their companies while ours fend for themselves," Clinton said.

"Other countries," Clinton said, "are, very frankly, providing direct support to their businesses, tilting the playing field in their favor."

"Other countries," she said, "will create the jobs that should be created here and even claim the mantle of global leadership."

India, she noted, has announced a $1 trillion plan to improve its infrastructure over the next five years. Brazil is investing $100 billion in the run-up to the 2016 Olympics. "We need to make sure that American construction companies and suppliers are positioned to compete for contracts and take part in this global construction boom," Clinton said.

U.S. embassies, she said, have been instructed to stand up for American business interests abroad. "When we see governments enact regulations that are an excuse to give state-owned enterprises or local favorites an unfair advantage," Clinton said, "our embassies push back."

The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, Clinton said, are using what she called "commercial diplomacy" to help U.S. companies "compete and win" with more than 1,000 economic officers and over 400 locally-employed staff around the world -- as well as 200 people in the Economic Bureau in Washington -- looking for opportunities for U.S. business abroad.

That "commercial diplomacy," she said, resulted in the sale of 50 Boeing 737 airplanes to Russia, with components of those aircraft manufactured across America. "It also helped a small mining company from Greeneville, Tennessee, called Jarden Zinc sign a $20 million contract in the Philippines," she said.

In an effort to help small and medium-sized businesses, the State Department sent a team of U.S. ambassadors from across the Middle East on a "reverse trade mission" to Milwaukee, Chicago, Seattle and Houston, Clinton said, to raise awareness about the business opportunities in their region. It also will be sending ambassadors from every region to do the same thing in cities across the United States, she said.

Briefing reporters on Clinton's speech, Under Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Agricultural Affairs Robert Hormats said the State department is pursuing a "jobs agenda."

"We are very cognizant of the fact that, in this country, a number of people are struggling. We understand the particular importance of the State Department not only conducting a vigorous international economic policy but also connecting with the concerns and the aspirations and the interests of working people in America."

Hormats said the State Department is supporting President Barack Obama's National Export Initiative, which aims to double U.S. exports over five years, and create 2 million jobs in the process. Ninety-five percent of the world's consumers, he said, are located in other countries and more than one half of U.S. exports now go to the developing world.

Hormats, who served as vice chairman of Goldman Sachs (International) before coming to the State Department as Secretary Clinton's senior economic official, said, "If you go around the world, every country today at the top of their government, their prime ministers, are very pro-active in supporting the exporting interests of their companies....and one of the things we want to do is to be just as pro-active in supporting the interests of our companies. "

The two are linked, he said: a strong domestic economy creates a stronger base for an effective foreign policy and effective national security policy.

In her speech, Clinton acknowledged that trade is "is a polarizing issue" but made a strong pitch for three trade agreements currently pending in Congress which, she claimed, "have potential to create tens of thousands of new American jobs."

The U.S. Korea Free Trade Agreement, she said, is projected to grow the U.S. economy by at least $10 billion annually.

"The U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement would allow our businesses to sell goods in Colombia duty-free -- the same way Colombian goods have entered the United States for many years -- and it comes with important new guarantees on labor and human rights," she noted.

With a free-trade agreement with Panama, she said, instead of paying tariffs as high as 81%, as American businesses do now, "Eighty-eight percent of the consumer and industrial goods the U.S. exports would enter Panama duty-free."

"Passing these deals is critical to our economic recovery," Clinton added.

Clinton said she plans to highlight the issue of economic growth in two upcoming speeches. In Hong Kong later this month, she will outline the rules and values that support the global economic order. In the fall she plans to give a larger address on economics and America's strategic choices.