I would simply like to a take a moment to pointedly observe the fact that President Obama himself can not only (if implicitly) recognize the inherent benefits of unrestricted free trade, but that he is currently and actively promoting increased exports as a method of growing the economy. I would never say that increased exports merely for their own sake are necessarily an economic boon, but if the United States (or any country, for that matter) is indeed readily able to competitively produce some good or service for which there is any kind of global demand, then heck yes — exports are fantastic for economic growth, as are imports when other countries in their turn can produce something more cheaply and efficiently than we can.

The Obama administration had early on set some goals to boost U.S. exports, but with weak U.S. economic growth and an ever weaker global economy, their erstwhile goals are falling tragically short. Via the AP:

Back in January 2010, President Barack Obama set a lofty goal of doubling U.S. exports in five years. With just 18 months to go to 2015, that target seems to be slipping beyond reach and has vanished from White House talking points. …

Monthly export numbers have been mostly stagnant this year. And only a scant 6,000 manufacturing jobs were added last month, according to Labor Department jobs statistics released Friday.

“The goal of doubling exports keeps getting harder to achieve, not easier,” said Alan Tonelson, research fellow at the U.S. Business and Industry Council, which represents about 2,000 mostly family owned manufacturing companies. “We’re actually backsliding, not making progress.”

Paging the Obama administration: I have a super-neat idea for how we could make some money and boost our economy with exports: Do you think maybe you guys could quit dithering around on finally issuing those natural-gas export permits for which multiple companies are currently clamoring hand-over-fist?

Though domestic demand for gas may grow only slowly, there’s a huge global market for the commodity. With Japan retreating from nuclear power after the Fukushima accident, their need for gas to generate electricity has risen exponentially. Because Germany is planning to phase out nuclear power over the next decade, that country’s demand for natural gas will escalate as well.  China and Korea are also expected to be huge gas importers for the foreseeable future.

To ship American gas across the oceans, of course, it must first be liquefied, requiring huge investments in liquefaction plants, export terminals and special liquefied natural gas (LNG) carriers.   To date, only two projects have been approved by the U.S. Department of Energy—one  in Sabine Pass, Louisiana being developed by Cheniere Energy and another in Freeport, Texas being developed by a group of limited partners that includes ConocoPhillips and subsidiaries of Dow Chemical and Osaka Gas Corporation.  Both of these projects are secured by long-term supply agreements with companies such as Korea Gas Corporation and Chubu Electric Power Corporation.  20 other applications are currently being evaluated by the Department of Energy, including potential investments by Korean and British companies.

Obama’s new Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz has signaled both that the administration is a general albeit cautious fan of natural gas and that they’re going to get around to approving the pending applications sometime soon. Ergo, I’m hopeful, but there are real opportunity costs for businesses in continuing to delay these things, and the fact that any Democrats in Congress are pretending that exporting natural gas would be anything but great for the American economy — while their president is actively pushing for further exports — is yet another  testament to the stupid amount of political sway our huge bureaucracy affords to special interests.