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One Area Where Republicans and Democrats Can Agree: Promoting Green Exports

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While motherhood and apple pie appear to continue to enjoy strong bipartisan support, Republicans and Democrats are running depressingly low on policy areas where they can agree. There is one bright spot on the horizon that benefits from support from both parties -- promoting America's green exports.

As evidence, at a lunch last week hosted by the National Foreign Trade Council on Capitol Hill, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and Republican Congressman David Dreier of California spoke about the value of U.S. government efforts to tear down barriers to and encourage better promotion of American clean technologies.

Senior environmental and business groups are also supportive. The Environmental Defense Fund's international climate program director Jennifer Haverkamp suggested that addressing trade barriers and improving commercial diplomacy is important to the U.S. clean energy economy. Tim Richards, managing director for Energy Policy for GE Energy, emphasized the need for U.S. government efforts to help knock down trade barriers abroad and help counter state-owned or state-sponsored competition.

Major U.S. business groups including Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Foreign Trade Council are pushing a similar message through a set of principles to encourage Congress and the administration to pursue a more coordinated and aggressive strategy to promote U.S. clean energy exports.

The organizations suggest that worldwide demand for America's clean energy products and services will create jobs and drive U.S. leadership of the 21st century global economy. They list several areas where U.S. government activity could more effectively target activities, including targeted and robust commercial diplomacy, better monitoring of export promotion programs and further developing flexible clean-technology funding mechanisms. The principles also note the importance of protecting American ideas and intellectual property rights globally, which allows companies to create revenue flows that can be reinvested to support further development of innovative solutions to global challenges, such as climate change.

One reason why green export promotion is so important is because the green economy is a large and growing segment of the overall U.S. economy. The Brookings Institution just released a new report, "Sizing the Clean Economy," which suggests that the U.S. clean energy sector is directly responsible for 2.7 million jobs, a quarter of which are involved in U.S. manufacturing. Green jobs are also heavily dependent on exports. In 2009, clean economy firms exported nearly $50 billion in goods and $4.5 billion in service exports. As Ty Mitchell, vice president for LED lighting for Durham, NC-based Cree, noted at last week's lunch, "you can be successful manufacturing technology in the United States" and exports are an important path for creating those jobs.

None of this is to suggest that there are not differences among groups when it comes to domestic policies to support the clean energy economy. At last week's lunch, the Environmental Defense Fund also highlighted the need to craft domestic policies that send the signal to globally-competitive businesses that it makes sense to invest and create jobs in the United States. One suspects their ideas for those domestic policies may differ, at least in part, from those of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But when it comes to marketing and selling clean energy technologies globally, senior business and environmental leaders recognize that export promotion efforts can help unlock foreign markets and grow businesses and jobs in the United States.

During his talk, Senator Wyden called for a standalone agreement to eliminate tariffs on environmentally friendly goods and services, an idea that the business groups endorsed in their principles and which is likely to get new traction over the coming months, particularly if other multilateral trade initiatives continue to stall. Last year, Congressman Dreier introduced a resolution along with an unlikely ally, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), encouraging the United States to pursue something similar -- "the global elimination of obstacles to the proliferation of technologies and services" to address pressing environmental concerns. Removing tariffs on environmental goods and services could increase global exports by nearly $6 billion and would lead to new jobs and economic activity in the United States.

Strong U.S. Government support for a green trade agreement -- and for more aggressive promotion of U.S. clean energy exports more generally -- has the potential to gain strong bipartisan support on both sides of the aisle, even as we approach an election year.

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