The Export-Import Bank and the Small Matter of $37 Billion

Written by Christopher Wenk

Without congressional action, the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) will close its doors on September 30. A collection of political activists, think tank staffers, and pundits have mounted a campaign against renewing Ex-Im’s charter.

One of these critics’ most common refrains is that Ex-Im is unnecessary because it “only” supported $37.4 billion in U.S. exports last year—or less than 2% of the total.

In fact, Ex-Im’s limited role is a virtue, not a problem to be solved. The vast majority of trade finance is provided by commercial banks, and most of the time that’s the end of the story.

But as we’ve pointed out repeatedly (including here, here, and here), exceptional circumstances at times make Ex-Im truly indispensable to American exporters.

More broadly, though, it’s a mystery why anyone would dismiss $37 billion in exports as insignificant and cede these sales to companies and workers in other countries. Let’s put that number in perspective:

  • It’s more than U.S. merchandise exports last year to France ($32 billion), Australia ($26 billion), India ($21.9 billion), or the entire continent of Africa ($35 billion).
  • It’s twice as much as all 2013 U.S. merchandise exports to Colombia ($18.6 billion), Italy ($16.5 billion), or Israel ($13.7 billion).
  • It’s ten times as much as the Keystone XL pipeline would contribute to U.S. GDP during its construction, a sum estimated at $3.4 billion (as we explain here).
  • It’s nearly as much as the sum of all overseas sales last year of the top three U.S. export crops—soybeans ($22.9 billion), wheat ($10.7 billion), and corn ($7.8 billion).
  • It’s comparable to the total U.S. exports of such key industrial products as telecommunications equipment ($39.7 billion), semiconductors ($42.6 billion), medical equipment ($34 billion), and pharmaceuticals ($47.9 billion).
  • It’s more than the total 2013 merchandise exports of the following states combined: Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.
  • It’s more than the 2013 merchandise exports of Indiana, Kentucky, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Tennessee.

Small business owners, executives at major corporations, and workers in a host of export-dependent industries across the nation are perplexed by the inside-the-beltway campaign against Ex-Im. This campaign will continue when Congress returns to Washington next week.

But by dismissing $37 billion as chump change, the activists calling for Ex-Im to be closed are showing just how out of touch they are with the concerns of Americans across the nation. Those concerns start with the economy and jobs—concerns that closing Ex-Im will only magnify. Congress, are you listening?

The following blog was written by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The full blog page with graphics can be found here.

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