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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Israel Hernandez
Israel Hernandez
Assistant Secretary for Trade Promotion,
Director General of U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service

May 21, 2007

Israel Hernandez
It is a great honor to be part of this Administration and to put into practice the President’s agenda to create opportunity for U.S. workers and firms by promoting exporting. It is also a privilege to be able to answer a few of your questions about international trade and the role the U.S. Foreign and Commercial Service plays in helping American businesses compete in the global marketplace.

Michael, from Powell, Tn writes:
About how much revenue do you think is made in trade?

Israel Hernandez
Last year a record $1.4 trillion of American goods and services were exported. This represents 11.1 percent of our entire GDP. U.S. companies that aren’t exporting are missing out on a vast consumer marketplace—95 percent of the world’s population and more than 70 percent of the world’s purchasing power are outside of the United States. Much like the stock market, businesses that export are diversifying their market portfolios —enabling them to weather changes in the global economy. Small businesses and entrepreneurs play a key role in global trade. The Small Business Administration reports that small firms exported a record $375 billion in 2006—or more than $1 billion a day. This export growth was three times as fast as the overall economy.

Jason, from Washington, DC writes:
As many countries have varied policies for drug and device approvals, what advice do you give to U.S. companies who want to do business in these countries, but yet have difficulty navigating the sometimes confusing policies and strategic obstacles that countries impose upon the companies?

Israel Hernandez
Jason, great question. You are right, many countries have different rules and regulations, that can affect where a U.S. firm wants to sell. My best advice is to look up the nearest U.S. Export Assistance Center at Our Commercial Service has 108 offices across the United States and in American embassies and consulates in 80 countries. Through this network, our trade specialists work hand-in-glove to help U.S. companies navigate these trade issues. For example, one of our U.S. Export Assistance Centers recently provided ongoing assistance to a distributor of vitamins and sports supplements, helping the firm obtain the required health certificates and other documentation. One of the real advantages of working with the Commercial Service is that along with our programs, we have the right connections to help resolve issues and assist in these exporting efforts.

John, from Texas writes:
Do you think our businesses can be competitive on world markets if they have to provide workers' and retiree health benefits instead of the government, like all the other industrialized countries do? Our system the way it is now costs lots more for the same health care provided.

Israel Hernandez
John, that’s an excellent question, and a vitally important issue. U.S. businesses are some of the most competitive in the world, and extremely innovative. But there’s no question that certain industries such as the automotive sector are facing difficult times in part due to legacy and health care issues. Echoing President Bush, there’s a lot we can do to empower the individual in this country to be in charge of his or her health care decisions—for example, the U.S. Congress needs to strengthen health savings accounts, just like they need to make sure that the tax code treats every person in America fairly. The President would like to change the tax code to enable the small business owner, the self-employed, or the individual worker to be able to have more affordable insurance. This would be an important component to helping address the healthcare issue.

Imogene, from Roanoke, VA writes:
American people are hurting for work, why is it that the Govt. thinks it's a good idea to outsourse our jobs to other countries?

Israel Hernandez
Thanks Imogene for the question. I know that many people are concerned about losing jobs overseas. At the same time, I want to impress upon you that the American economy is doing very well. In fact, we’ve created nearly eight million new jobs in the United States since August 2003 and have had 43 straight months of job growth. Our national unemployment rate is near a record low of 4.5 percent and more Americans have jobs today than ever before in history.

Outsourcing is a complicated issue. Every company has suppliers that they turn to for both product components and services, and some of those suppliers are from overseas. Companies make their sourcing decisions for good business reasons as they look for the best fit for their needs. In the long run, American consumers usually benefit by having good choices for products and services at reasonable costs.

The important thing is to allow businesses the flexibility they need to compete with companies from around the world. We want to ensure that American businesses are allowed to make the best choices that serve the interests of their customers, stockholders, and workers.

Kelly, from United States writes:
With the jobs being outsourced and the government wanting to give amnesty to millions of illegal aliens plus allow millions more in the United States to work here, how can American citizens be expected to pay for them on the cheaper wages they will be receiving due to lack of better paying jobs?

Israel Hernandez
Thanks for your question, Kelly. I’m a strong believer in the importance of immigrants and immigration to our country. Most Americans can trace their heritage back to immigrants, including myself. I am a first generation American on my father's side and the first to graduate from college. Most immigrants add value to our society. One of our nation’s great challenges is one of our greatest strengths: our ability to absorb immigrants from places as diverse as Ireland, Korea, India and Mexico and make them into Americans.

Last week, a bipartisan group of senators, working with the Administration, reached agreement on comprehensive immigration reform legislation that addresses our nation’s security needs, but also treats people fairly and with respect. It’s a tough issue, but one that if we deal with the right way gives our country a real advantage over other nations. This legislation will now be taken up by the Senate so we can have a full debate on this important issue.

Kelly, you might also look at the Immigration “in focus” area of the White House homepage for more information on the Administration’s thoughtful approach to comprehensive immigration reform.

smith, from usa writes:
Would you comment on the upcoming us-china SED in this month? And what does the us want to achieve?

Israel Hernandez
The Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED) is a forum to manage the economic relationship between the United States and China on a long-term strategic basis. The SED is not one single event, but rather a framework that provides direction to all of our ongoing bilateral dialogues with China on a range of economic subjects.

While the SED is focused on long-term strategic economic issues, we also seek to achieve concrete results of mutual interest in the short-term. It’s very important for us to continue a positive dialogue through which we foster cooperation and make progress on resolving concerns.

We won’t know the outcome of this week’s SED meeting for a few days, but we are hopeful we will see meaningful openings in several areas of importance to the U.S. economy.

Cliff, from Brimfield, Ohio writes:
Secretary Hernandez: How does US companies compete and succeed in foreign markets when they have to compete against area's that have way less overhead( wages, pensions, health benefits and etc)? And aren't many of our companies doing business from these area's because of these factors?

Thank You

Israel Hernandez
You raise a good point, Cliff. I’ll tell you that each company has its own story of how it manages to compete, not just against foreign competitors but against other U.S. companies too.

For most successful companies there is a combination of factors that give them an edge. American workers are among the most productive and innovative in the world. Our companies apply technology, differentiate their products from others and simply do a better job of making their products or services. American products are the best in the world and people around the world demand them. Our exports are at record highs. We make what the world wants.

Mary, from Buffalo, NY writes:
How can a small business owner add value to the economy with your agency in obtaining foreign direct investment in a border city like Buffalo?

Israel Hernandez
Thanks for your question Mary. As I said earlier, the Commercial Service has 108 offices across the United States, including Buffalo, New York.

In terms of Foreign Direct Investment to Buffalo, I suggest you contact your state government economic development agency, which does a great job of attracting foreign investment to New York.

If you want additional information about exporting, please log on to

Israel Hernandez
Thank you for the opportunity to answer your thoughtful questions. The U.S. Foreign and Commercial Service is part of the Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration. At the Commercial Service our focus is to help U.S. companies enter and expand in markets worldwide.

Each year the Commercial Service counsels tens of thousands of U.S. companies and facilitates billions of dollars of U.S. export sales through a seamless network of offices in 109 U.S. cities and at U.S. embassies and consulates in 80 countries. We are where you are where you want to be when it comes to planning and developing an international trade strategy that is right for your company.

We are able to assist American companies in a variety of different ways including export counseling, helping companies develop market entry strategies, providing world-class market research, introducing American companies to qualified buyers, organizing and participating in trade events such as trade missions and trade fairs worldwide, and through trade advocacy.

If you are interested in making your company internationally competitive or are introducing your product or services to new international markets, we can help. To learn more please visit

Thank you!