Machinery exports bouncing back?

If new export statistics are an indication, the recovery train is starting its slow chug for U.S.-based manufacturers of construction equipment.

Compared to the previous year, U.S. construction machinery exports dropped more than 38 percent in 2009, to a total value of $12.8 billion, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) reported March 4. AEM consolidates U.S. Commerce Department data for off-road equipment with other sources to develop its quarterly export trend reports.

However, there was a silver lining in those dark 2009 numbers. The year’s fourth quarter saw a 26-percent gain in the value of exports over the previous three-month period.

“Exports have literally been a lifeline for the construction equipment industry, which saw U.S. business plummet more than 40 percent last year and unemployment soar to more than double the national average,” said Dennis Slater, AEM president. “Global trade has been a significant source of industry expansion in recent years, and many economies are now rebounding faster than the U.S.”

Slater took the opportunity to encourage federal initiatives promoting equipment exports.

“To help boost U.S. exports, it is essential that federal government policies make it easier for American companies to pursue international business, and for international buyers to more easily travel to the United States to examine and buy American products,” he said. “AEM applauds President Obama’s recent National Export Initiative to promote trade, which includes expanded export-import bank funding for small- to medium-sized enterprises from 20 percent to 50 percent of budget. Many of our smaller companies increasingly rely on exports to keep their businesses operating, and we have launched a pilot program with Ex-Im Bank to guide companies through the loan-application process and maximize their export opportunities.

“AEM also welcomes the Administration’s renewed focus on revamping the U.S. visa-application process. International attendance at our trade shows would be much higher if qualified buyers were not subjected to an overly complicated and seemingly arbitrary process. These are established business people, and many just give up and vow to spend their money in other countries.”

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In 2009, Canada remained the top destination country for U.S.-made construction equipment, valued at $3.7 billion, but down 41 percent from 2008. Mexico took delivery of $1 billion work of gear, down 28 percent.

In terms of region, South America took delivery of $2.4 billion of equipment, followed by Asia at $2 billion and Central America at $1.3 billion, down by 29, 35 and 34 percent respectively.