Obama Promises Push on Trade Pacts
Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
Published: July 7, 2010
The two trade pacts, and a third one with South Korea, were negotiated by the administration of former PresidentGeorge W. Bush, but all three have languished in Congress because of deep opposition from Democrats. Mr. Obama said in Toronto last month that he intended to make a new push for the South Korean agreement, and on Wednesday he pledged to press ahead with the two Latin American pacts as well.
“For a long time, we were trapped in a false political debate in this country, where business was on one side and labor was on the other,” Mr. Obama said in the East Room of the White House, at an event intended to highlight his administration’s efforts to promote exports. “What we now have an opportunity to do is to refocus our attention where we’re all in it together.”
Trade is a particularly difficult issue for many Democrats, especially in an election year when jobs are already scarce, because of a widespread view that American workers suffer disproportionately when the United States lowers trade barriers.
On the South Korea pact, for instance, Democrats have expressed concerns about that country’s restrictions on automobile and beef imports from the United States — concerns that Mr. Obama has vowed to address before sending the agreement to Congress for passage.
But Mr. Obama, who has been under pressure from business leaders, does have some Democratic allies on the issue. After the president’s announcement in Toronto, Representative Steny Hoyer, the House Democratic leader, called for Mr. Obama to renegotiate all three stalled pacts and send them to Congress.
The president made his call as part of a broader push to increase American exports under conditions that he said would “keep the playing field level” for American companies that send their products overseas. He appointed 18 corporate and labor leaders — including the chief executives of Ford Motor and Walt Disney — to a council to advise him.
The White House said there has been a 17 percent increase in American exports during the first four months of this year, compared with the same period from last year.
“We’re upping our game for the playing field of the 21st century,” Mr. Obama said. “But we’ve got to do it together. We’ve got to all row in the same direction.”