Leading From The Front on Ex-Im Bank

Randy Zook Commentary

Leading From The Front on Ex-Im Bank

It isn’t easy running a business. Markets go up and down, good people are hard to find, and competition is fierce in every sector. In a globalized world, American businesses are also fighting against foreign rivals, often paying pennies to their workers and propped up by government subsidies and worse.

But for the last 80 years, American businesses have had a powerful ally at their side as they work to break into new markets and compete on the global stage. The federal Export-Import Bank provides loans and insurance to help U.S. companies sell their products overseas and create new opportunities for American workers here at home. Ex-Im has supported more than $250 billion in U.S. exports and 1.3 million American jobs since 2009.

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The Bank has become something of a political football in recent years, as different partisan pressure groups have tried to paint it as some kind of costly government subsidy program. But fortunately those days appear to be receding as the U.S. House just overwhelmingly voted to reauthorize the Bank, with more than 300 members from every corner of the country and both political parties voting to support this vital tool for U.S. workers and jobs. 

In Arkansas, Congressman Steve Womack lived up to his motto of "Leading From The Front" and bravely stood up for businesses and jobs in our state despite withering political pressure from Ex-Im’s partisan foes.

The Bank’s opponents claim Ex-Im puts taxpayer dollars at risk, but anyone who checked the facts knows that is simply not the case. The Bank charges interest and fees for its services — which cover the full cost of its operations and then some. In the last two decades, Ex-Im has returned a surplus of more than $7 billion to the U.S. Treasury. Why on earth would any American oppose a program that collects money from foreign companies and uses it to pay down our deficits and debt?

The Bank is also a careful, prudent lender, with decades of experience in international markets that many private lenders simply cannot match. That is why Ex-Im can handle deals involving far-flung nations with minimal risk — and a default rate that is just one fifth of most commercial banks. 

As Hot Springs lumber exporter BCH Trading explained, the company’s private bank simply "will not make the loan guarantees that enable it to ship American lumber to countries like Greece and Egypt." Critics say the Bank wrongly interferes in private markets, when it actually fills gaps the market cannot cover on its own. Ex-Im doesn’t replace the private sector, it makes the private sector stronger and more productive. 

Congressman Womack and his colleagues were right to reject empty political talking points and listen to the concrete facts about the importance of Ex-Im to business in our state. In the last five years, the Bank has supported nearly $640 million in Arkansas exports — helping business from Jonesboro to Fort Smith break into new markets and create well-paying jobs here at home. Nationwide, Ex-Im created 164,000 jobs last year alone.

It’s not easy to run a business, but it isn’t always easy being a congressman either. As representatives of Arkansas business, we are grateful to Congressman Steve Womack for listening to the facts, putting politics aside, and standing up for jobs and economic opportunity in our state by voting to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank.

Randy Zook is president and CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas. Email him at RZook@ArkansasStateChamber.com.

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