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Trading Positions

- October 21, 2011

A Look Back At Obama’s Many Flip-Flops On Trade

“President Barack Obama Plans To Sign Trade Agreements With South Korea, Panama And Colombia On Friday… (“Obama To Sign Trade Deals With S. Korea, Panama And Colombia On Friday,” The Associated Press, 10/18/11)

FLIP: DURING THE 2008 CAMPAIGN, OBAMA SAID NAFTA HAS NOT BEEN GOOD FOR AMERICA AND PROMISED TO RE-NEGOTIATE 

Obama Pledged To Renegotiate NAFTA With The Threat Of Withdrawing Unless It Was Renegotiated. "In their final head-to-head meeting before Tuesday's Ohio and Texas primaries, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) declared that they would opt out of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico unless those two countries renegotiated the pact's labor and environmental provisions to the United States' liking." (Editorial, "At Best, A Pander," The Washington Post, 3/1/08)

  • Obama: “I think we should now re-examine NAFTA.” (Chuck Sweeny, “Obama Leaves Good Impression In Forest City,” Rockford [IL] Register Star, 12/2/03)
  • Obama: "I Don't Think NAFTA Has Been Good For America - And I Never Have." Obama: "Ten years after NAFTA passed, Senator Clinton said it was good for America. ... Well, I don't think NAFTA has been good for America - and I never have." (David Espo, "Obama Hits Clinton On NAFTA Support," The Associated Press, 2/24/08)
  • Obama Pledged To Renegotiate NAFTA With The Threat Of A “Potential Opt-Out.” NBC’s TIM RUSSERT: “A simple question. Will you as president say to Canada and Mexico, this [NAFTA] has not worked for us, we are out?” OBAMA: “I will make sure that we renegotiate in the same way that Senator Clinton talked about, and I think actually Senator Clinton’s answer on this one is right. I think we should use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage to ensure that we actually get labor and environmental standards that are enforced.” (Sen. Barack Obama, MSNBC Democrat Presidential Debate, Cleveland, OH, 2/26/08)

FLOP: BUT THAT WAS ALL “POLITICAL MANEUVERING”

Then-Economic Adviser Austan Goolsbee Told The Canadian Consulate That Obama’s Stance On NAFTA Was “More Reflective Of Political Maneuvering Than Policy.”“On Monday, a memorandum surfaced, obtained by The Associated Press, showing that Austan D. Goolsbee, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago who is Mr. Obama’s senior economic policy adviser, met officials last month at the Canadian consulate in Chicago. According to the writer of the memorandum, Joseph De Mora, a political and economic affairs consular officer, Professor Goolsbee assured them that Mr. Obama’s protectionist stand on the trail was ‘more reflective of political maneuvering than policy.’” (Michael Luo, “Memo Gives Canada’s Account Of Obama Campaign’s Meeting On NAFTA,” The New York Times3/4/08)

FLIP: OBAMA SAID FREE TRADE’S EFFECT ON THE ECONOMY WAS “POSITIVE” BUT “MILD”

Obama Backtracked On His NAFTA Rhetoric Saying “‘Sometimes During Campaigns The Rhetoric Gets Overheated And Amplified” And Said NAFTA “Has Had A Mild, Positive Effect” On The Economy. “‘Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified,’ he conceded, after I reminded him that he had called NAFTA ‘devastating’ and ‘a big mistake,’ despite nonpartisan studies concluding that the trade zone has had a mild, positive effect on the U.S. economy.” (Nina Easton, “Obama: NAFTA Not So Bad After All,” CNN Money6/18/08)

FLOP: LESS THAN A YEAR INTO HIS PRESIDENCY, OBAMA SAYS FREE TRADE IS “ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL TO OUR ECONOMIC FUTURE

President Obama: “And make no mistake, this administration is committed to pursuing expanded trade and new trade agreements.  It is absolutely essential to our economic future.  And each time that we have met -- at the G20 and the G8 -- we have reaffirmed the need to fight against protectionism.” (President Obama,Remarks At Federal Hall, 9/14/09)

FLIP: BUT WAS “PLAYING IT COY ON TRADE,” PUSHING PROTECTIONIST POLICIES TO SATISFY LABOR UNIONS

The Wall Street Journal: "President Obama Has Spent His First Six Months In Office Playing It Coy On Trade, Avoiding Any Showdown With Labor And Postponing Hard Choices." (Editorial, "Obama's Trade Test," The Wall Street Journal, 8/4/09)

The Economist: A “String Of Ominously Protectionist Policies” Clouds President Obama’s Approach To Free Trade. “The tire decision needs to be set into the context of a string of ominously protectionist policies which started within weeks of the inauguration with a nasty set of ‘Buy America’ provisions for public-works contract ... Besides these sins of commission sit the sins of omission: the president has done nothing at all to advance the three free-trade packages that are pending in Congress, with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, three solid American allies who deserve much better.” (“Economic Vandalism,” The Economist, 9/17/09)

The Washington Post: “Obama's Broader Trade Policy Seem Pretty Close To That Of Organized Labor.” “The question is: Exactly what is he doing to advance additional market-opening agreements that are clearly in the U.S. interest, such as pending deals with Colombia, South Korea and Panama? Or the DOHA talks on reducing global tariffs? So far, the answer is somewhere between not much and nothing. Just as the tariff against Chinese tires reflects the unilateral urging of the United Steelworkers of America -- not U.S. tire companies -- so does Mr. Obama's broader trade policy seem pretty close to that of organized labor, which adamantly opposes all of the above-mentioned deals.” (Editorial, "All Talk on Trade," The Washington Post, 9/17/09)

FLOP: OBAMA CALLED FOR CONGRESS TO PASS THE TRADE DEALS “RIGHT NOW”

President Obama Said That Passing Trade Deals Is “Something That Congress Could Do Right Now” To Create Jobs. “Trade deals.  You know, trade deals haven’t always been good for America.  There have been times where we haven’t gotten a fair deal out of our trade deals.  But we’ve put together a package that is going to allow us to start selling some Chevys and some Fords to Korea so that -- we don’t mind having Hyundais and Kias here, but we want some ‘Made in America’ stuff in other countries.  That’s something that Congress could do right now.” (President Barack Obama, Remarks By The President In A Town Hall Meeting, Cannon Falls, MN, 8/15/11)

FLIP: BUT OBAMA HAD THE TRADE DEALS SITTING ON HIS DESK FROM DAY 1

The Wall Street Journal: “In Order For Congress To Ratify Free-Trade Agreements, The White House Must First Send The Signed Deals To The Other End Of Pennsylvania Avenue.” (Editorial, “The Biggest Trade Barrier,” The Wall Street Journal, 8/20/11)

  • The Pending Trade Deals Are Still Sitting On The President’s Desk, Thus Blocking Congressional Action On Them. “On his three-state tour in the Midwest this week, Mr. Obama repeatedly told audiences that the Korea, Colombia and Panama free-trade deals would all be law by now if not for an obstructionist Congress. Passing the deals is something Congress ‘could do right now,’ he said. Except that's not true. Congress can't pass the agreements ‘right now’ because it doesn't have them. They are still sitting on the President's desk. Seriously.” (Editorial, “The Biggest Trade Barrier,” The Wall Street Journal, 8/20/11)

In An Awkward Moment, Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest Was Surprised By News That The White House Had Not Sent The Deals To Congress. “If you are surprised to learn this, you are not alone. White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest only learned the news on Friday during a press conference. Asked why the FTAs haven't been sent, he responded, ‘We have not sent them over?’” (Editorial, “The Biggest Trade Barrier,” The Wall Street Journal, 8/20/11)

  • Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest Is Caught Unaware That The White House Has Not Sent Trade Bills. Q: “Why does the White House keep telling Congress to move on the free trade bills if they haven’t even -- if you guys haven’t even sent them over?” EARNEST: “I don’t -- have we not sent them over?” Q: “No.” EARNEST: “Well, I know that there have been” -- (laughter) – Q: “Gotcha.” (Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest, Washington, D.C., 8/12/11)

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