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Obama pushes trade initiative to boost jobs

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama sought Thursday to put some detail behind his lofty drive to double U.S. exports over the next five years, calling the effort imperative to putting people back to work.

In a speech to the Export-Import Bank conference, Obama outlined steps to flesh out his trade initiative. Among them: creating a mini-Cabinet of officials to focus on exports, seeking more financing to support trade efforts, beefing up enforcement of existing trade deals and pushing for the completion of stalled ones.

"We shouldn't assume that our leadership is guaranteed," Obama said. "When other markets are growing, and other nations are competing, we've got to get even better. We need to secure our companies a level playing field."

Obama promised in his State of the Union address that doubling trade over the next five years will support 2 million American jobs, a pledge he repeated Thursday.

The U.S. trade deficit unexpectedly shrank in January, reflecting a big drop in imports of oil and foreign cars. American exports also fell, a potential blow to hopes the economic recovery will be aided this year by U.S. sales abroad. The Commerce Department said Thursday that the trade deficit declined to $37.3 billion in January, a drop of 6.6 percent from December. - AP

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