Caterpillar Inc. Chairman Jim Owens, a strong advocate of free trade who believes protectionism could further harm the economy, will get the chance to air his views at the top.


 

Caterpillar Inc. Chairman Jim Owens, a strong advocate of free trade who believes protectionism could further harm the economy, will get the chance to air his views at the top.

Owens was named Friday to a team of economic advisers who will advise President Barack Obama on ways to boost the economy and help the country out of the recession.

Owens was one of 16 business leaders named to the Economic Recovery Advisory Board, which will be headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. Owens and the others were introduced at a ceremony at the White House on Friday, after which Owens was able to speak with the president for a few minutes. It’s unknown what they spoke about.

“I am honored to be named to this group and I look forward to working with my colleagues to assist President Obama in the development of his economic policy,” Owens said in a statement released by Caterpillar.

The White House said the advisory board will offer independent advice in regular briefings to the president, vice president and their economic team. The White House said the board’s initial focus will be programs to “jump-start economic growth.”

Other members include former Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman William Donaldson; TIAA-CREF President-CEO Roger Ferguson; Harvard University professor Martin Feldstein, who wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece last year titled “John McCain Has a Tax Plan To Create Jobs”; Obama friend and campaign finance chairwoman Penny Pritzker; General Electric Co. CEO Jeffrey R. Immelt; and two labor officials — Anna Burger of Service Employees International Union and Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO.

Free trade has long been important to Caterpillar, the world leader in heavy construction equipment manufacturing, and is often the topic of discussion by Owens.

However, the company is concerned that any “Buy American” language in the upcoming economic stimulus package being negotiated in Congress would be considered protectionist if it prevented U.S. companies from importing goods. If that occurred, Caterpillar believes other countries then would make it difficult for it and other companies to export their goods.

Paul Gordon can be reached at (309) 686-3288 or pgordon@pjstar.com.