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Barack Obama on Free Trade

Democratic incumbent President; IL Senator (2004-2008)


China is an adversary but also a potential partner

Q: What do you believe is the greatest future threat to the national security of this country? Is it China?

OBAMA: I think it will continue to be terrorist networks. We have to remain vigilant. But with respect to China, China's both an adversary but also a potential partner in the international community if it's following the rules. So my attitude coming into office was that we are going to insist that China plays by the same rules as everybody else. And I know Americans had seen jobs being shipped overseas, businesses and workers not getting a level playing field when it came to trade. And that's the reason why I set up a trade task force to go after cheaters when it came to international trade. We have brought more cases against China for violating trade rules than the previous administration had done in two terms. And we've won just about every case that we've filed. Just recently, steelworkers in Ohio & Pennsylvania, are in a position now to sell steel to China because we won that case.

Source: Third Obama-Romney 2012 Presidential debate , Oct 22, 2012

Develop alternatives to importing rare earths from China

Q: China currently produces 97% of rare earth elements needed for advanced electronics. What steps should the federal government take to ensure the quality and availability of critical natural resources?

A: Rare earth elements and other critical minerals are used by American manufacturers to make high-tech products like the advanced batteries that power everything from hybrid cars to cell phones. My support for the development alternatives to rare earth materials is helping to ensure we have the materials necessary to propel our high-technology economy forward. Being able to manufacture competitive products in America is too important for us to stand by and do nothing. We've got to take control of our energy future, and we can't let the energy industry take root in other countries because they are allowed to break the rules. That's why we have joined with Japan and some of our European allies to bring a trade case against China for imposing restrictions on their exports of rare earth materials

Source: The Top American Science Questions, by sciencedebate.org , Sep 4, 2012

Skeptical on whether China feels bound by global trade rules

Obama was skeptical about the degree to which China felt bound by the rules of the global trading system in general and the rules of the World Trade Organization in particular. Obama made it plain to veterans of the Clinton administration that he felt they had allowed China to enter into the World Trade Organization under terms that weren't tight enough-- thus allowing China to become a trading giant and leaving Obama with too little leverage when China flouted the trading rules.

There was also a certain Asian quality to the president's negotiations with China. "They push and push and push until you say no," Obama told those around him. "And then they stop pushing."

Source: The Obamians, by James Mann, p.179-180 , Jun 14, 2012

Trade Enforcement Unit: inspections for safe imports

I will not stand by when our competitors don't play by the rules. We've brought trade cases against China at nearly twice the rate as the last administration--and it's made a difference. Over a thousand Americans are working today because we stopped a surge in Chinese tires. But we need to do more. It's not right when another country lets our movies, music, and software be pirated. It's not fair when foreign manufacturers have a leg up on ours only because they're heavily subsidized.

Tonight, I'm announcing the creation of a Trade Enforcement Unit that will be charged with investigating unfair trade practices in countries like China. There will be more inspections to prevent counterfeit or unsafe goods from crossing our borders. No foreign company should have an advantage over American manufacturing when it comes to accessing finance or new markets like Russia. Our workers are the most productive on Earth, and if the playing field is level, I promise you--America will always win

Source: 2012 State of the Union speech , Jan 24, 2012

FactCheck: Chinese tire import ban replaced by other imports

The president claimed in his State of the Union speech that a tougher administration policy against alleged unfair trade practices by China was "making a difference." He added: Obama: "Over 1,000 Americans are working today because we stopped a surge in Chinese tires."

The White House based that claim on statistics that show the number of tire manufacturing jobs went from 50,800 in Sept. 2009, when a new tariff on Chinese tires was announced, to 51,900 in Oct. 2011. That's a gain of 1,100 jobs. But that says nothing about the cause.

Imports from China did drop sharply after the tariff took effect in 2009, beginning at a rate of 35%. However, Chinese tires were soon replaced by imports from Thailand, Indonesia, Mexico and elsewhere. "So far as saving American jobs, it just isn't working," says a representative of the Tire Industry Association. "And it really hurt a lot of people in the industry--smaller businesses that geared up to bring these tires in from China."

Source: FactCheck.org on 2012 State of the Union speech , Jan 24, 2012

Double our exports by 2014; starting with South Korea

To help businesses sell more products abroad, we set a goal of doubling our exports by 2014--because the more we export, the more jobs we create here at home. Already, our exports are up. Recently, we signed agreements with India and China that will support more than 250,000 jobs here in the US. And last month, we finalized a trade agreement with South Korea that will support at least 70,000 American jobs. This agreement has unprecedented support from business and labor, Democrats and Republicans--and I ask this Congress to pass it as soon as possible.

Before I took office, I made it clear that we would enforce our trade agreements, and that I would only sign deals that keep faith with American workers and promote American jobs. That's what we did with Korea, and that's what I intend to do as we pursue agreements with Panama and Colombia and continue our Asia Pacific and global trade talks.

Source: 2011 State of the Union speech , Jan 26, 2011

FactCheck: Yes, exports up; but not enough to double by 2014

The president set a goal of doubling exports in five years and said: "Already, our exports are up." They are, quite a bit. Monthly figures show that exports of US goods and services were running 10.5% higher than last January.

But that's still shy of the rate needed for doubling within five years, which would require an annual increase of nearly 15%, compounded. Furthermore, imports have also increased during the same period by a larger amount, resulting in a larger trade deficit.

Source: FactCheck.org on 2011 State of the Union speech , Jan 25, 2011

Enforce trade being reciprocal; not just a one-way street

Rep. ROSKAM: On job creation, you mentioned Colombia, you mentioned Panama, you mentioned South Korea. Are you willing to work with us [House Republicans] to make sure those FTAs get called, that's no-cost job creation? And ultimately, as you're interacting with world leaders, that's got to put more arrows in your quiver, and that's a very powerful tool for us. But the obstacle is, frankly, the politics within the Democratic caucus?

Pres. OBAMA: You're right, there are conflicts within the Democratic Party. I suspect some Republican constituencies may be pretty suspicious about new trade agreements, because the suspicion is somehow they're all one way. Part of what we've been trying to do is to make sure that we're getting the enforcement side, that if we've got a trade agreement with China or other countries, that they are abiding with it--they're not stealing our intellectual property. And my hope is, that trade is going to be reciprocal; that it's not just going to be a one-way street.

Source: Obama Q&A at 2010 House Republican retreat in Baltimore , Jan 29, 2010

More exports means more jobs; double exports for 2M new jobs

We need to export more of our goods. Because the more products we make and sell to other countries, the more jobs we support right here in America. So tonight, we set a new goal: We will double our exports over the next five years, an increase that will support two million jobs in America. To help meet this goal, we're launching a National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small businesses increase their exports, and reform export controls consistent with national security.

We have to seek new markets aggressively, just as our competitors are. If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores. But realizing those benefits also means enforcing those agreements so our trading partners play by the rules. And that's why we'll continue to shape a Doha trade agreement that opens global markets, and why we will strengthen our trade relations in Asia and with key partners like South Korea and Panama and Colombia.

Source: 2010 State of the Union Address , Jan 27, 2010

We export only 4,000 cars to Korea; that’s not free trade!

McCAIN: When Sen. Obama said he would unilaterally renegotiate NAFTA, the Canadians said, “Yes, and we’ll sell our oil to China.”

OBAMA: For far too long, certainly during the course of the Bush administration with the support of Sen. McCain, the attitude has been that any trade agreement is a good trade agreement. And NAFTA did not have enforceable labor agreements and environmental agreements.

And what I said was we should include those and make them enforceable. In the same way that we should enforce rules against China manipulating its currency to make our exports more expensive and their exports to us cheaper.

And when it comes to South Korea, we’ve got a trade agreement up right now, they are sending hundreds of thousands of South Korean cars into the US. That’s all good. We can only get 4,000 to 5,000 into South Korea. That is not free trade. We’ve got to have a president who is going to advocate on behalf of American businesses and American workers and I make no apology for that

Source: 2008 third presidential debate against John McCain , Oct 15, 2008

Trade is here to stay; we have to compete

Here is Obama on trade, speaking in April to the Alliance for American Manufacturing:

"The truth is, trade is here to stay. We live in a global economy. For America's future to be as bright as our past, we have to compete. We have to win.

"Not every job that has left is coming back. And not every job lost is due to trade--automation has made plants more efficient so they can make the same amount of steel with few workers. These are the realities.

"I also don't oppose all trade deals. I voted for two of them because they have the worker and environmental agreements I believe in. Some of you disagreed with me on this but I did what I thought was right."

Source: Obama`s Challenge, by Robert Kuttner, p.173 , Aug 25, 2008

Global trade is unsustainable if it favors only the few

This is the moment when we must build on the wealth that open markets have created, and share its benefits more equitably. Trade has been a cornerstone of our growth and global development. But we will not be able to sustain this growth if it favors the few, and not the many. Together, we must forge trade that truly rewards the work that creates wealth, with meaningful protections for our people and our planet. This is the moment for trade that is free and fair for all.
Source: Speech in Berlin, in Change We Can Believe In, p.268 , Jul 24, 2008

Assist workers who lose globalization's race to the bottom

Obama comments, "But the larger problem is what's missing from our prevailing policy on trade and globalization--namely, meaningful assistance for those who are not reaping its benefits and a plan to succeed in a twenty-first century economy. So far, almost all of our energy and almost all of these trade agreements are about making life easier for the winners of globalization, while we do nothing as life gets harder for American workers."

Obama adds, "But this is about more than displaced workers. Our failure to respond to globalization is causing a race to the bottom that means lower wages and stingier health and retiree benefits for all Americans. It's causing a squeeze on middle-class families who are working in this new economy. As one downstate (Illinois) worker told me during a recent visit, 'It doesn't do me much good if I'm saving a dollar on a T-shirt in Wal-Mart, but don't have a job.'"

Source: Obamanomics, by John R. Talbott, p.117-118 , Jul 1, 2008

Impossible to turn back globalization; we’d be worse off

New challenges have emerged, from China and India, Eastern Europe and Brazil. Jobs and industries can move to any country with an internet connection and willing workers. Michigan’s children will grow up facing competition not just from California or South Carolina, but also from Beijing and Bangalore.

There are some who believe that we must try to turn back the clock on this new world; that the only chance to maintain our living standards is to build a fortress around America; to stop trading with other countries, shut down immigration, and rely on old industries. I disagree. Not only is it impossible to turn back the tide of globalization, but efforts to do so can make us worse off.

Rather than fear the future, we must embrace it. I have no doubt that America can compete--and succeed--in the 21st century. And I know as well that more than anything else, success will depend not on our government, but on the dynamism, determination, and innovation of the American people.

Source: Speech in Flint, MI, in Change We Can Believe In, p.245-6 , Jun 15, 2008

Don’t let trade policy be dictated by special interests

If we continue to let our trade policy be dictated by special interests, then American workers will continue to be undermined, and public support for robust trade will continue to erode. That might make sense to the Washington lobbyists who run Senator McCain’s campaign, but it won’t help our nation compete. Allowing subsidized and unfairly traded products to flood our markets is not free trade.

We cannot stand by while countries manipulate currencies to promote exports, creating huge imbalances in the global economy. We cannot let foreign regulatory policies exclude American products. We cannot let enforcement of existing trade agreements take a backseat to the negotiation of new ones. Put simply, we need tougher negotiators on our side of the table--to strike bargains that are good not just for Wall Street, but also for Main Street. And when I am President, that’s what we will do.

Source: Speech in Flint, MI, in Change We Can Believe In, p.257 , Jun 15, 2008

Strong labor, safety, and environmental standards on trade

It is absolutely critical that we engaged in trade, but it has to be viewed not just through the lens of Wall Street, but also Main Street, which means we’ve got strong labor standards and strong environmental standards and safety standards, so we don’t have toys being shipped in the US with lead paint on them. There are also opportunities in our economy around creating a green economy. We send $1 billion to foreign countries every day because of our addiction to foreign oil. For us to move rapidly to cap greenhouse gases, generate billions of dollars that we can reinvest in solar and wind and biodiesel that can put people back to work. How do we get it done? The changes are only going to come about if we’re able to form a working coalition for change. It has to be a priority for whoever the next president is to be able to overcome the dominance of the special interests in Washington, to bring about the kinds of economic changes that I’m talking about.
Source: 2008 Democratic debate at University of Texas in Austin , Feb 21, 2008

More Transition Assistance for displaced workers

Source: Campaign booklet, “Blueprint for Change”, p. 10-15 , Feb 2, 2008

Enforce environmental & labor provisions in trade agreements

EDWARDS: [to Obama]: The problem with the Peru trade agreement [which Obama voted for] is you are leaving the enforcement of environmental and labor regulations in the hands of George Bush. I wouldn’t trust George Bush to enforce anything, certainly not trade obligations.

OBAMA: Well, in a year’s time, it’ll be me who’s enforcing them. We’re going to make sure that the right thing is being done. It is absolutely critical for us to understand that NAFTA was an enormous problem. The permanent trade relations with China, without some of the enforcement mechanisms that were in there, that you voted for, was also a significant problem. And we’ve got to all move forward as Democrats to make sure that we’ve got trade deals that work for working people and not just for corporate profits.

Source: 2008 Congressional Black Caucus Democratic debate , Jan 21, 2008

Enforce existing safety laws against Chinese products

Q: What would you do in order to give the U.S. more leverage, to be able to deal with China at least as an equal partner? And are you willing to do that despite the consequences?

A: We have laws on the books now that aren’t being enforced. This is what I mean in terms of us negotiating more effectively with them. Part of the problem is, is that the relationship has shifted over time. I would say toys cannot come in. We will have our own safety inspectors on the ground for food.

Source: 2007 Des Moines Register Democratic debate , Dec 13, 2007

Congress subsidizes megafarms & hurts family farmers

Q: How do you protect jobs without hurting farmers?

A: Congress subsidizes these big megafarms and hurts family farmers oftentimes in the process. And we’ve got to cap those subsidies so that we don’t have continued concentration of agriculture in the hands of a few large agribusiness interests. But, on the trade issue generally, we’re not going to suddenly cordon off America from the world. Globalization is here, and I don’t think Americans are afraid to compete. And we have the goods and the services and the skills and the innovation to compete anywhere in the world. But what we’ve got to make absolutely certain of is that, in that competition, we are hard bargainers. You know, I’m always struck by the Bush administration touting that this is the MBA president and they’re such great businessmen, and they get taken to the cleaners in a lot of these trade agreements. And we’ve got to have somebody who’s negotiating on behalf of workers and family farmers

Source: 2007 Democratic primary debate on “This Week” , Aug 19, 2007

People don’t want cheaper T-shirts if it costs their job

Q: The flip side to fair trade: how do you convince a working family that’s struggling to get by that buying American is still best for them, when American T-shirts cost $20 and imported ones are $10?

A: Look, people don’t want a cheaper T-shirt if they’re losing a job in the process. They would rather have the job and pay a little bit more for a T-shirt. And I think that’s something that all Americans could agree to.

But this raises a larger point, which is: globalization is here. And we should be trading around the world. We don’t want to just be standing still while the rest of the world is out there taking the steps that it needs to in order to expand trade.

Congress has a responsibility because we’ve got right now provisions in our tax code that reward companies that are moving jobs overseas instead of companies that are investing right here in the US. And that is a reflection of the degree to which special interests have been shaping our trade policy. That’s something that I’ll end.

Source: 2007 AFL-CIO Democratic primary forum , Aug 8, 2007

Reinvest in communities that are burdened by globalization

Q: A lot of Americans are concerned with outsourcing of US jobs. What’s your solution?

A: I moved to Chicago to work with churches that were dealing with the devastation of steel plants that had closed all throughout the region. Tens of thousands of people had been laid off. There was never a federal effort to come in after those closings and to figure out how can we retrain workers for the jobs of the future, how can we invest and make sure capital is available to create new businesses in those communities. And so not only do we have to deal with our trade agreements, not only do we have to eliminate tax breaks for companies that are moving overseas, not only do we have to work on our education system, but we also have to have an intentional strategy on the part of the federal government to make sure that we are reinvesting in those communities that are being burdened by globalization and not benefiting from it.

Source: 2007 Democratic Primary Debate at Howard University , Jun 28, 2007

Fair trade should have tangible benefits for US

[Obama believes in] ensuring fair trade by enforcing existing trade agreements. Obama believes any trade agreement must have real, tangible benefits for U.S. business and workers and will work to enforce the trade agreements on the books.
Source: 2004 Senate campaign website, ObamaForIllinois.com , Jun 25, 2004


Barack Obama on Free Trade Agreements

Trade agreements mean we sell "Made in America" to millions

We can choose a future where we export more products and outsource fewer jobs. After a decade that was defined by what we bought and borrowed, we're getting back to basics, and doing what America has always done best: We're making things again.

I've met workers in Detroit and Toledo who feared they'd never build another American car. And today, they can't build them fast enough, because we reinvented a dying auto industry that's back on top of the world.

I've worked with business leaders who are bringing jobs back to America, not because our workers make less pay, but because we make better products. Because we work harder and smarter than anyone else.

I've signed trade agreements that are helping our companies sell more goods to millions of new customers, goods that are stamped with three proud words: Made in America.

After a decade of decline, this country created over half a million manufacturing jobs in the last two and a half years.

Source: 2012 Democratic National Convention speech , Sep 6, 2012

Double US exports via deals with Panama, Colombia, & S.Korea

Two years ago, I set a goal of doubling US exports over five years. With the bipartisan trade agreements I signed into law, we are on track to meet that goal--ahead of schedule. Soon, there will be millions of new customers for American goods in Panama, Colombia, and South Korea. Soon, there will be new cars on the streets of Seoul imported from Detroit, and Toledo, and Chicago.

I will go anywhere in the world to open new markets for American products.

Source: 2012 State of the Union speech , Jan 24, 2012

China trade deal does too little on fairness & compliance

For America to win, American workers have to win, too. That's why I opposed NAFTA, it's why I opposed CAFTA, and it's why I said any agreement I would support had to contain real, enforceable standards for workers.

That's why I believe the Permanent Normalized Trade agreement with China didn't do enough to ensure fairness and compliance.

Source: Obama`s Challenge, by Robert Kuttner, p.173 , Aug 25, 2008

NAFTA protects corporate profits; should protect labor

Here is an excerpt from the Obama speech:

"It's a Washington where George Bush hands out billions in tax cuts year after year to the biggest corporations and the wealthiest few who don't need them and don't ask for them.

"A Washington where decades of trade deals like NAFTA and China have been signed with plenty of protections for corporations and their profits, but none of our environment or our workers who've seen factories shut their doors and millions of jobs disappear, workers whose right to organize and unionize has been under assault for the last eight years.

"And it's a Washington that has thrown open its doors to lobbyists an special interests who've riddled our tax code with loopholes that let corporations avoid paying their taxes while you're paying more."

Source: Obamanomics, by John R. Talbott, p. 30 , Jul 1, 2008

Supports trade & globalization but opposes CAFTA job loss

"I believe that expanding trade and breaking down barriers between countries is good for our economy and for our security, for American consumers and American workers. Globalization is a technological revolution that is fundamentally changing the world' economy, producing winners and losers along the way. The question is not whether we should protect our workers from competition, but what we can do to fully enable them to compete against workers all over the world."

These strong words in support of international trade and globalization are from an OpEd Obama published in the Chicago Tribune on June 30, 2005, entitled, "Why I Oppose CAFTA." But Obama also believes that trade agreements must address issues of fairness, such as labor, environmental, and consumer safety.

The trade Obama is most concerned with is that which costs jobs in America and depresses wages here. Primarily, this is trade with developing countries who have a much lower wage structure due to their much lower cost of living.

Source: Obamanomics, by John R. Talbott, p.113-114 , Jul 1, 2008

Peru trade OK because it includes labor & enviro protections

While Obama has been an advocate of free trade, he sees the need to make sure that it is fairly regulated. The original trade agreements written primarily by the law firms of big corporations were very careful to derive protections for international property, intellectual property rights, and the enforcement of contracts necessary to do business effectively. They were almost completely devoid of any regulation to protect the consumer, the environment, or the worker. Obama has supported trade agreements with countries like Peru that have been properly structured to include these provisions, but is insistent that trade agreements like NAFTA be renegotiated to include such provisions.

Obama understands that we cannot allow trade with countries like China if they are not going to respect the rights of workers and consumers.

Source: Obamanomics, by John R. Talbott, p.124 , Jul 1, 2008

NAFTA needs to be amended

There’s no doubt that NAFTA needs to be amended. I’ve already said I would contact the president of Mexico and the prime minister of Canada to make sure that labor agreements are enforceable. But I did want to just go back briefly to the issue of trade and human rights that you had mentioned. We have to stand for human rights, and that should be part of the trade equation.
Source: 2007 Des Moines Register Democratic Debate , Dec 13, 2007

Stand firm against CAFTA for labor & environmental standards

Fight for Fair Trade:

Obama will fight for a trade policy that opens up foreign markets to support good American jobs. He will use trade agreements to spread improved labor and environmental standards around the world and stand firm against agreements like the Central Amercan Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) that fail to live up to those important standards.
Source: 2008 Presidential campaign website, BarackObama.com “Flyers” , Aug 26, 2007

Amend NAFTA to add labor agreements

Q: Would you scrap NAFTA or fix it?

A: I would immediately call the president of Mexico, the president of Canada to try to amend NAFTA because I think that we can get labor agreements in that agreement right now. And it should reflect the basic principle that our trade agreements should not just be good for Wall Street, it should also be good for Main Street.

Source: 2007 AFL-CIO Democratic primary forum , Aug 7, 2007

Insist on labor and human rights standards for China trade

The U.S. should be firm on issues that divide us [from the Beijing government] -like Taiwan-while flexible on issues that could unite us. We should insist on labor standards and human rights, the opening of Chinese markets fully to American goods, and the fulfillment of legal contracts with American businesses-but without triggering a trade war, as prolonged instability in the Chinese economy could have global economic consequences.
Source: Press Release, “Renewal of American Leadership ” , Jul 12, 2004

Voted YES on free trade agreement with Oman.

Vote on final passage of a bill to implement the United States-Oman Free Trade Agreement.
Reference: United States-Oman Free Trade Agreement; Bill S. 3569 ; vote number 2006-190 on Jun 29, 2006

Voted NO on implementing CAFTA for Central America free-trade.

Approves the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States-Free Trade Agreement entered into on August 5, 2005, with the governments of Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua (CAFTA-DR), and the statement of administrative action proposed to implement the Agreement. Voting YES would:
Reference: Central America Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act; Bill HR 3045 ; vote number 2005-209 on Jul 28, 2005

Extend trade restrictions on Burma to promote democracy.

Obama co-sponsored extending trade restrictions on Burma to promote democracy

A joint resolution approving the renewal of import restrictions contained in the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003. The original act sanctioned the ruling military junta, and recognized the National League of Democracy as the legitimate representative of the Burmese people.

Legislative Outcome: Related bills: H.J.RES.44, H.J.RES.93, S.J.RES.41; became Public Law 110-52.

Source: S.J.RES.16 07-SJR16 on Jun 14, 2007

Other candidates on Free Trade: Barack Obama on other issues:
Incumbents:
Pres.Barack Obama
V.P.Joe Biden
GOP Candidates:
Gov.Mitt Romney(MA)
Rep.Paul Ryan(WI)
Third Party Candidates:
Mayor Rocky Anderson(J)
Roseanne Barr(PF)
Rep.Virgil Goode(C)
Gov.Gary Johnson(L)
Jill Stein(G)
Andre Barnett(Ref.)

GOP Withdrawals:
Rep.Michele Bachmann(MN)
Herman Cain(GA)
Rep.Newt Gingrich(GA)
Gov.Sarah Palin(AK)
Rep.Ron Paul(TX)
Gov.Tim Pawlenty(MN)
Gov.Rick Perry(TX)
Gov.Buddy Roemer(LA)
Sen.Rick Santorum(PA)
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Page last updated: Jan 22, 2013