U.S. trade bank chief warns lawmaker 'political games' threaten exports

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 24, 2014 10:40 AM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers will only hurt American exports and jobs by playing "political games" that threaten to shut down the U.S. Export-Import Bank, the bank's president said on Thursday.

Ex-Im Bank President Fred Hochberg said critics of the export credit agency did not appreciate its role in supporting jobs and exports, and he warned the bank would have to close its doors on October 1 unless Congress renewed its charter.

Some conservative Republicans object to the U.S. government running a bank that makes loans to help exporters and have been trying to shut it down for years. U.S. business groups are stepping up lobbying efforts in support of the bank ahead of the September deadline to renew the bank's charter.

Renewing the charter for five years and increasing the bank's lending cap would deliver certainty to countless businesses, workers and overseas buyers, Hochberg said at the opening of the bank's annual conference.

"We can't let rigid ideologies stand in the way of American jobs and American leadership," he said, noting that many businesses relied on Ex-Im financing to get ahead.

"We cannot pull the rug out from under them. We cannot play political games with those American jobs."

Scrapping the bank would be a blow to Boeing, Caterpillar, General Electric and other U.S. companies that rely on Ex-Im financing to make sales in export markets where commercial lending is scarce.

The lender, which celebrated its 80th birthday in February, backed $37.4 billion in exports in 2013 and poured a record $1 billion into U.S. coffers from its profits. It supports companies exporting goods ranging from wine to cosmetics, satellites, pickles and helicopters.

Hochberg said already one Ex-Im customer, a renewable energy company, had been turned down for a project because its competitor had argued political uncertainty meant the U.S. firm might not have the financing to complete the job.

Boeing Chief Operating Officer Dennis Muilenburg said earlier this month the bank's financing helped offset subsidies and credit financing provided to foreign competitors and shutting it down would risk thousands of U.S. jobs.

But Delta Airlines has long argued that Ex-Im Bank financing allows foreign competitors to buy Boeing planes on better credit terms than it can obtain.

Republican Representative Jeb Hensarling, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, has criticized the bank for interference and said it does not properly diversify risk.

"In many respects (it is) the face of cronyism. It is where government bureaucrats come in and start to allocate credit, pick winners and losers," he said in an interview posted online by the conservative Heritage Foundation on April 17.

Representative Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the Republican-controlled House, has called on Congress to reauthorize Ex-Im before its charter expires. House Democrats plan to include reauthorization legislation in a package of manufacturing bills.

(Reporting by Krista Hughes; Editing by Andrea Ricci)