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Landrieu Introduces Legislation to Help Small Businesses Compete

Location: Washington, DC

Landrieu Introduces Legislation to Help Small Businesses Compete

United States Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., yesterday introduced two bills to improve Small Business Administration (SBA) International Trade programs and help Gulf Coast small businesses export products overseas.

The Small Business International Trade Enhancements Act of 2007, S. 738, was cosponsored by Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship ranking member Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., and committee member Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn.

"This bipartisan legislation will give small businesses nationwide more options when seeking export financing," Sen. Landrieu said. "It is an important step for exporters in Louisiana and for small businesses nationwide looking to open markets overseas for American products.

"During the last Congress, I worked closely on this legislation with Senators Snowe and Kerry, and I am pleased to continue our work this Congress to reform the SBA's International Trade programs."

"In an increasingly global economy, the future prosperity of American small business will depend largely on their ability to efficiently provide goods and services internationally," Sen. Snowe said. "The SBA should be given the resources necessary to meet the needs of small businesses throughout the country, and support their continued growth into foreign markets."

"The Gulf Coast needs a small business trade specialist working now to help return the region to its role as an international economic hub that boosts America's economy," Sen. Kerry said. "The region needs specialized local export and financing assistance, and that can't be accomplished from three states away. Small businesses account for 97 percent of all exporters and, in light of continuing record deficits, it is important that we do more to support small business exporting around the country."

"As the Administration works to open up markets around the world, the SBA needs to better help America's small businesses take advantage of these new foreign market opportunities," Sen. Coleman said. "This bill is a step in the right direction by ensuring that SBA can better serve as the government's top trade advocate for small businesses."

The bipartisan legislation would create an SBA Associate Administrator for International Trade, improve overall efficiency and coordination in the Office of International Trade, and create a Trade Finance Specialist to oversee International Loan Programs. The legislation also helps small businesses nationwide with their export and trade operations by setting a minimum number of International Finance Specialists to stop continued downsizing of this vital program. At a cost of less than $2 million per year, this small group of specialists has obtained bank financing for more than $10 billion in U.S. exports since 1999. Yet, the current number of specialists currently sits at only 15, the lowest level ever for the program.

The bill also makes the SBA International Trade Loan program more user-friendly for lenders and borrowers by raising the loan cap to $3.67 million and the guarantee amount to $2.75 million, while also bringing collateral and refinancing requirements in line with the regular SBA 7(a) program.

The bill contains bipartisan provisions from the Small Business Reauthorization and Improvements Act of 2006, which was reported out of the Senate Small Business Committee but blocked by an Administration hold. Sen. Landrieu is working to include the measure in this year's SBA reauthorization bill.

The Gulf Coast Export Recovery Act of 2007 (S. 745) fills a void by hiring a Gulf Coast International Finance Specialist to help small businesses impacted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama with export financing. This position has been vacant since 2003 due to retirement of staff and ongoing budget cuts. An additional International Trade Specialist will also be hired and will be responsible for East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, Iberville, Pointe Coupee, St. Martin, St. Landry and Iberia parishes. Many New Orleans area businesses have relocated to these parishes since Hurricane Katrina, and additional staff is needed to keep up with the increasing export needs in the area.

"Our Louisiana and Gulf Coast ports, from the Port of Lake Charles in Louisiana to the Port of Mobile in Alabama, make our region a major player in international trade," Sen. Landrieu said. "This bill will provide the Department of Commerce and the SBA with vital staff in the region to help our businesses recover and take advantage of opportunities overseas."

Sen. Landrieu, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, also intends to include the provisions of this bill in the FY08 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill.

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