September 30th is the day of reckoning for the Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank because that is the day that the Bank’s authorization expires. And, as this day approaches, Ex-Im’s supporters will continue to grasp at every straw possible – no matter how thin – as they try to defend this flawed, outdated institution. We can expect to see crony capitalists of all stripes come out of the woodwork to remind us why the Ex-Im Bank must be preserved at all costs. Unfortunately for the Bank – but fortunately for the American taxpayer – the pro-Ex-Im arguments keep getting eviscerated one by one when forced to stand up to independent analysis.
Most recently, the notion propagated by Big Business that the Export-Import Bank works to “level the playing field” by counteracting other countries’ “aggressive” export financing has come under scrutiny. The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial that argued for “pulling the plug on the Export-Import Bank,” and Big Business, doubtless horrified to read such heresy, scrambled to fire back. The presidents of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers wrote a joint response in which they defended Ex-Im’s role of “providing a counterweight to the official export credit agencies maintained by 60 nations.”
The Chamber has been even more strident in the past, stating that eliminating the Bank “would amount to unilateral disarmament in the face of other nations’ aggressive trade finance programs.” Putting aside this alarmist and anachronistic Cold War arms-race-era rhetoric, the numbers simply don’t add up.
Dr. Veronique de Rugy of George Mason University’s Mercatus Center has written extensively about the Ex-Im Bank. As she has with other shaky Ex-Im arguments, Dr. de Rugy subjected this claim to an independent economic analysis. Her conclusions hardly support the Chamber’s contention that without Ex-Im’s stalwart defense, America would be reduced to the world-trade equivalent of a curbside lemonade stand.
Citing 2012 data from a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, de Rugy compared the total export financing provided by the United States through the Ex-Im Bank with that of the other G-7 nations, among them some of our top trading partners. As it turns out, we are leagues ahead in terms of total dollar amounts. The U.S. provided $31.3 billion in export financing in 2012, making us far and away the leader among the G-7. We doled out more than twice as much funding as the number-two nation, Germany. Our own top trading partner, Canada, provided a relatively paltry $1.7 billion. Even in the face of what the Chamber would call the “aggressive trade finance programs” of our fellow world powers, the United States appears to have a sufficient cushion against “unilateral disarmament.”
Maybe this cushion is the reason Ex-Im appears to expend a comparatively meager effort to fight the menace of foreign credit agencies. The Bank’s charter requires its transactions to be categorized by the official institutional goal that they fulfill, one of which is “to meet competition from a foreign, officially sponsored export-credit agency.” Looking at Ex-Im’s own annual report from 2013, Dr. de Rugy found that transactions in this goal category accounted for less than one-third of the Bank’s total activity and only $12.2 billion of their funds. That is hardly indicative of an attempt to stave off an earth-shattering trade crisis. What’s more unsettling is the largest category labeled as “unknown,” representing more than 50 percent of transactions.
We’ve seen this lack of transparency before. Dr. de Rugy has found in previous research that the Bank regularly categorizes as “unknown” the industries with which it does business. Their own inspector general has criticized this insufficient reporting, as well.
If Ex-Im is serious about how necessary they are to defend America against foreign credit agencies, maybe they should start by correctly reporting their transactions which allegedly help to achieve this goal. For years, the Bank has refused to be transparent and adhere to the reporting requirements they agreed to, in part, to obscure from view the obvious fact that the claims they make are completely fictitious. This is just more proof that unless serious reforms are capable of being put in place, it is likely time for this Depression-era institution to pack up its tent.