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Policinski: Exports to Developing Countries Boost U.S. Economy

This weekend, business leaders, heads of state, journalists and leading thinkers will be gathering in South Africa for events of the utmost importance for both the U.S. and the developing world. No, not the World Cup, but the 2010 Global Forum, convened by the editors of Time, Fortune and CNN.

[IMGCAP(1)]This year’s forum will focus on the many economic opportunities that exist in the developing world — opportunities that stand to benefit both the citizens of developing countries as their economies grow and the wealthy countries that are able to partner effectively with these emerging economies. The reality is that investing abroad is an essential part of America’s economic recovery.

When jobs are scarce and economic times are tough, we can’t ignore the fact that the fastest-growing markets for America’s goods are in developing countries. These countries represent 40 percent of U.S. exports already, but there are more people overseas who would buy American products if we just opened the doors.

We can create thousands of jobs for working Americans by developing new markets. In fact, the process has already begun. Over the past four decades, international trade has tripled as a share of our national economy. Despite all the talk of the decline of American manufacturing, U.S. exports account for one out of every five American jobs.

Last year, as a result of work and investments made by the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, for instance, businesses in 41 states and the District of Columbia exported $2.3 billion. They helped fund a study on building geothermal power in Turkey. When the plant was built, they used $22 million in U.S. goods and services. The U.S. Agency for International Development helped fund a conference on building broadband Internet communications in Africa. More than $400 million in U.S. equipment and services exports were utilized to make it happen. The agency helped fund a study on waste management for Morocco — and the U.S. has reaped over $62 million in exports from this work.

The more we sell overseas, the better our economy will do back home. This is the time to invest in even more vigorous international development, so we can put more Americans to work by opening growing markets around the world.

While the economic benefits may be obvious, effective development around the world yields significant political and security benefits for America as well. We agree with Defense Secretary Robert Gates who said of the global war on terrorism, “We cannot kill or capture our way to victory” and instead must invest in political and economic efforts to strengthen the friends of freedom and neutralize those who wish our country ill.

The diplomatic efforts we undertake to help troubled nations develop political stability, the humanitarian efforts we undertake to help save lives, feed and protect others from disease or disaster — these efforts spread a message to the peoples of the world that America is a force for good and can be a valuable partner. When we help countries such as Turkey with energy challenges or African nations with communication or sanitation challenges, we develop relationships that pay dividends far beyond the goods we sell. Having friends around the world helps prevent trouble before it happens — and often helps resolve it when it erupts. Diplomatic tools are important to develop economic opportunities in the developing world, but they also lead to a safer and more secure America.

We fully realize the economic realities faced by the president and Congress, and as business leaders understand the importance of fiscal responsibility and balanced budgets. But we would urge our leaders in Washington to view foreign assistance funds not only for their inherent humanitarian benefits, but also as an essential pillar of our economic security.

For just 1 percent of our total federal budget, these funds represent one of the surest ways to pay dividends in increased American growth, jobs and prosperity.

Chris Policinski is the CEO of Land O’Lakes Inc. and is on the board of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.

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