The United States is on track to double its exports within five years, President Barack Obama said, as he fills out a high-powered private sector council to help reach that goal.

“At a time when jobs are in short supply, building exports is an imperative. But this isn’t just about where jobs are today. This is where American jobs will be tomorrow,” Obama said in remarks prepared for delivery in a progress report on the ambitious export target he announced in January.

U.S. growth has returned after a severe recession but hopes for an enduring upturn—and a lift to hiring that pulls back U.S. unemployment from levels near 10 percent—will depend in large part on the strength of its sales abroad.

Some members of his own Democratic Party and its backers in organized labor fear free trade hurts U.S. workers more than it helps American business. But Obama was careful to stress he would fight to ensure U.S. exports got a fair deal, and named China as a key market where American firms would like to sell.

“Our discussions with China are addressing the important challenge of how to create a more level playing field for American companies seeking to expand their access to the growing Chinese market,” Obama said.

He again “welcomed China’s decision to allow its currency to appreciate in response to market forces,” which Washington says will help make U.S. exports more competitive.

Exported Recovery
The White House Council of Economic Advisers estimates rising U.S. exports have added more than 1 percentage point to U.S. growth in the last nine months, making a more significant contribution to the recovery than domestic spending.

The administration says it has run 18 trade missions to lift U.S. sales overseas, doubled loans to support exports and fought for fair trade at the World Trade Organization.

“As a result of these policies, and a global economic rebound, exports in the first four months of 2010 grew almost 17 percent from the same period last year,” the White House said in its progress report on Obama’s export push.

“This puts the U.S. on track to reach the president’s goal of doubling exports and supporting several million new jobs over five years.” Obama announced the target in his State of the Union address in January.

At the same time, doubt over the pace of Europe’s recovery has focused U.S. attention on tapping into demand from China and other rising economic powers.

Obama announced a timeline to complete a free trade deal with South Korea at a Group of 20 meeting in Toronto in late June, while maintaining pressure on China to let its currency rise, which Washington hopes will aid U.S. exports.

The White House says a South Korean trade deal, which needs approval from Congress, where it still faces opposition, would increase exports by an estimated $10 billion to $11 billion and support an estimated 70,000 jobs.

Obama says raising exports is a national priority and has created an Export Council made up of some of the country’s top chief executives to foster ideas. He’ll name the remaining members of the 20-person council. (Reuters)