Westinghouse argues to keep Export Import Bank as tool

For West­ing­house Elec­tric Co. and Holtec In­ter­na­tional, the sud­den threat of the U.S. Ex­port Im­port Bank dis­ap­pear­ing could not have come at a worse time.

The com­pa­nies have as­pi­ra­tions in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, where their cus­tom­ers can’t nec­es­sar­ily turn to a com­mer­cial bank to fi­nance a new West­ing­house re­ac­tor or a Holtec spent nu­clear fuel stor­age fa­cil­ity.

The Ex­port Im­port bank is their way of com­pet­ing against gov­ern­ment-owned com­pa­nies in other coun­tries for whom fi­nanc­ing is not an is­sue.

That’s how Danny Roder­ick, CEO of Cran­berry-based West­ing­house, and Pi­erre Paul Oneid, se­nior vice pres­i­dent at New Jer­sey-based Holtec, de­scribed their cur­rent pre­dic­a­ment.

Govern­ment-based fi­nanc­ing is of­ten the first ques­tion Mr. Ro­der­cik hears from po­ten­tial cli­ents, es­pe­cially those in smaller, de­vel­op­ing coun­tries like Bul­garia and the Czech Re­pub­lic, where West­ing­house is pur­su­ing new proj­ects.

“The first thing they also tell me is the Rus­sians have al­ready of­fered fi­nanc­ing, the French have al­ready of­fered fi­nanc­ing, the Koreans have al­ready of­fered fi­nanc­ing, the Jap­a­nese have al­ready of­fered fi­nanc­ing.

“What I al­ways have, and have had for the past 10 years, is the U.S. gov­ern­ment,” Mr. Roder­ick said.

That’s now in dan­ger as the 80-year-old in­sti­tu­tion has be­come the sub­ject of ques­tions over cor­po­rate wel­fare.

The de­bate over Ex-Im’s re­au­tho­ri­za­tion sur­faced ear­lier this year and has only in­ten­si­fied with an Oct. 1 re­au­tho­ri­za­tion dead­line and Con­gress about to break for its month­long Au­gust re­cess.

Some pol­i­ti­cians and other op­po­nents of the pro­gram say it puts U.S. tax­pay­ers on the hook for risky loans that com­mer­cial banks aren’t will­ing to make. They also claim it picks win­ners and los­ers by sup­port­ing some U.S. com­pa­nies but pe­nal­iz­ing oth­ers. For ex­am­ple, if a Jap­a­nese auto­maker is get­ting an Ex-Im loan to fi­nance its pur­chase of Amer­i­can-made seat belts, crit­ics claim the U.S. gov­ern­ment’s low-in­ter­est fi­nanc­ing gives the Jap­a­nese firm an un­fair ad­van­tage over Amer­i­can car com­pa­nies.

Jay Tim­mons, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Man­u­fac­tur­ers, coun­tered Fri­day that “if we get rid of our bank, we are uni­lat­er­ally dis­arm­ing our­selves eco­nom­i­cally.”

Ac­cord­ing to Mr. Tim­mons, global trade is ris­ing but the U.S. isn’t keep­ing pace. “Ex­ports [are] fall­ing from 15 per­cent of the global mar­ket in 2000 to just 9 per­cent” to­day.

“With­out the bank, we risk fall­ing even fur­ther be­hind,” he said at a panel his or­ga­ni­za­tion con­vened Fri­day morn­ing in­volv­ing West­ing­house and Holtec.

In Penn­syl­va­nia, the bank has helped to fi­nance about $6 bil­lion in ex­port sales over the past seven years, with 250 com­pa­nies ben­e­fit­ing.

West­ing­house hasn’t re­ceived Ex-Im bank as­sis­tance since 2008. Over the past seven years, its cus­tom­ers have got­ten $10 mil­lion in loans, a sliver of the $3 bil­lion dis­bursed by the bank to the ben­e­fit of Penn­syl­va­nia com­pa­nies dur­ing that time.

Holtec said the threat of the bank’s clo­sure is en­dan­ger­ing a deal a de­cade in the mak­ing that’s cur­rently in “the 11th hour. The com­pany was se­lected in 2005 to build a cen­tral­ized stor­age fa­cil­ity for spent nu­clear fuel in Ukraine, a proj­ect that was put on hold dur­ing the reign of a Rus­sia-friendly gov­ern­ment that ended ear­lier this year.

“It’s hard to be­lieve that now our prob­lem is not over­seas,” Mr. Oneid said. “Our prob­lem is here, with our Con­gress.

Anya Lit­vak: al­it­vak@post-ga­zette.com or 412-263-1455.

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