By David Lawder and Lewis Krauskopf
WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Flexing its muscles amid a bitter congressional fight over the U.S. Export-Import Bank, General Electric Co (GE.N) on Tuesday revealed plans to shift up to 500 U.S. manufacturing jobs to Europe and China because it can no longer access EXIM financing.
The largest U.S. industrial conglomerate said it will move production of some heavy duty gas turbines and 400 jobs to Belfort, France, in exchange for a credit line from France's COFACE (COFA.PA) export agency. The deal will support GE bids for international power projects.
U.S. plants in Greenville, South Carolina; Schenectady, New York; and Bangor, Maine, will lose out on those jobs if GE wins the power bids, a GE spokeswoman said.
GE also said 100 additional final assembly jobs for smaller turbine generator sets derived from aircraft engines will move next year from outside of Houston to Hungary and China. No U.S. facility will close, a GE spokeswoman said.
The company is bidding on $11 billion worth of international power projects that require export credit agency financing, including some in Indonesia.
The announcement rang alarm bells on Capitol Hill as lawmakers, still ramping up from a long summer recess, searched for a strategy to revive the trade bank after letting its charter expire on June 30.
"This is what happens when Congress sits idly by while thousands of jobs are on the line," said Republican Representative Stephen Fincher, who has led efforts to revive EXIM in the House of Representatives.
The lack of clarity on whether EXIM will ever resume lending has companies scrambling to make alternative plans.
"If you’re an export credit agency outside the U.S., you are now in the process of rolling out the red carpet to U.S. manufacturers," GE Vice Chairman John Rice told Reuters. "There are many other companies other than us that are impacted by this."
Boeing Co (BA.N), EXIM's biggest beneficiary, on Tuesday said it lost a second signed or potential satellite deal as Singapore's Kacific said it would not consider the bid without EXIM guarantees. The aerospace giant said the standoff would influence future workforce decisions.
"U.S. exporters across the country are operating at a significant disadvantage in overseas sales campaigns and are facing tough business decisions because Congress has failed to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank," said Boeing spokeswoman Gayla Keller.
OTHER FOREIGN DEALS EXPECTED
GE's Rice said he expects the company to soon announce deals with other foreign export credit agencies.
"If EXIM isn't going to happen, or it's going to be a regular fight to be reauthorized, we've got to make other plans," he said.
Conservative Republicans in Congress, led by House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, successfully blocked EXIM's renewal and are trying to kill the 81-year-old trade lender for good, charging that it represents "corporate welfare" and puts U.S. taxpayers at risk.
Four House Democrats sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner reminding him that a majority of House members and 65 senators support EXIM, and urged that a compromise be worked out.
But Boehner, mindful of his party's strong conservative faction, has said little about his intentions for EXIM's future, even though he has backed the bank in the past. The Ohio Republican has said that if a renewal bill comes up attached to other legislation, Hensarling would have an opportunity to propose amendments.
House Republican aides said that EXIM supporters may try to attach a renewal to a government spending extension or a transportation bill this autumn. But the spending bill, not yet drafted, already faces complications from efforts by conservative Republicans to use it to deny funding to Planned Parenthood.
(Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal in Washington; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Cynthia Osterman)