In early 2010 President Obama set a stretch goal for the United States: double our exports in five years. It was the kind of seemingly fantastical five-year plan you might expect from China, which has been able to leverage its outsized population and natural resources to produce extraordinary growth (though that growth has recently tapered off). Today, that goal remains far-off, but thanks to the American energy boom, it’s a lot less laughable than it was in 2010. The FT reports:
In January 2010, Mr Obama called for a doubling of exports within five years in an ambitious effort to reboot the US’s industrial base. At the time, the US was producing monthly exports worth $143bn, with goods exports accounting for $99bn. Since then, US exports have gradually increased, but the 2015 goal remains elusive.By this June, monthly US exports overall were worth $191bn, with goods exports at $134bn, rising about one-third compared with three and a half years earlier. […]The US became a net exporter of fuel in 2011 for the first time in two decades, as rising exports combined with slower imports.
Part of America’s newfound position as a net fuel exporter has to do with declining domestic demand. Gasoline consumption varies significantly month-to-month, but EIA data shows 2013’s numbers to be near the lower end of the five-year range. Some of that low demand is due to the protracted recovery from the recession, but the bigger and more permanent trend is the increasing gas mileage of new cars.Of course, the other component of the rise of US exports is an increase in our domestic energy supply, largely thanks to shale oil and gas. Petroleum and coal exports have boomed in recent years, more than doubling from 2010 to 2013. But coal exports aren’t up thanks to an increase in coal production: we produced 8 percent less coal over the first quarter of this year than we did in that same time period in 2010. Rather, the influx of cheap natural gas has displaced domestic demand for coal. Europe’s unwillingness to embrace fracking has made it a sink for American coal, and this past March US coal exports hit an all-time high.The cheap price of our natural gas is attracting industry from all over the world, and American companies are dabbling in onshoring as both a PR boon and as a way to keep a closer eye on quality control. These phenomena, combined with a strengthening economy, are driving up exports of goods as well, which have risen 35 percent since 2010. And while overall exports are still far away from Obama’s doubling target, they are up 33 percent—for which our energy industry deserves a lot of credit.[Oil rig image courtesy of Shutterstock]