WASHINGTON (Reuters) - General Electric Co (GE.N) Chairman Jeff Immelt warned on Wednesday that the company would move manufacturing jobs to Canada and Europe if the Export-Import Bank closes and that U.S. economic influence will wane if Congress blocks a major Pacific-rim trade pact.
Speaking to business leaders at a luncheon of the Economic Club of Washington, Immelt said U.S. companies need market access and financing tools to help level the playing field in an “economic war for exports.”
The charter of the Ex-Im Bank, the U.S. government’s export credit agency, will expire on June 30, blocking it from writing new loans and trade guarantees, unless Congress acts to reauthorize it.
President Barack Obama’s plans for a pan-Pacific free trade zone have stalled after Democrats defeated a key portion of legislation aimed at speeding negotiations.
“In two weeks the U.S. will have neither trade deals, nor an export bank. And at that point we’re going to be in full retreat on the global economic stage,” Immelt said.
Without Ex-Im, major export deals will be lost to China, Japan and Europe, where there is aggressive government support for exports, he said. Since GE does not want to lose that business, it will move production to countries where it can take advantage of export credit agency support.
“Good GE jobs in the United States will be moved to Canada and Europe. That’s a mighty high price to pay for ideological purity,” Immelt said.
Conservative Republicans who want to kill Ex-Im say that it represents government interference in private business decisions, provides “corporate welfare” to big companies including GE and Boeing Co (BA.N).
He also said Democrats needed to be more confident that trade deals will help generate well-paying jobs in the United States, adding that a number of GE’s unionized plants export the majority of their products.
Passing both the “fast-track” trade authority package and reauthorizing the Ex-Im bank would send a strong signal to global customers that the United States intends to stay a leader in exports for the long term, Immelt said.
Reporting By David Lawder; Editing by Steve Orlofsky