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Obama on Trade

Specific Policy Positions

Trade agreements Proposed renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement to bolster labor and environmental standards, later termed his NAFTA criticism "overheated," and then reaffirmed his commitment to amend the deal. Promises to use future trade agreements to raise labor and environmental standards. Opposes the Colombia agreement, citing violence there against union leaders, but promises to work with Bogota to deepen the bilateral relationship. Criticizes the South Korea trade deal as bad for American workers because it doesn't sufficiently open the Korean market to U.S. autos, beef, and rice. His campaign expresses skepticism about President Bush's efforts to finish the Doha Round of multilateral trade talks this year.

China Chastises the administration for taking no action against Chinese currency manipulation. A co-sponsor of legislation that would make currency undervaluation a subsidy and, as a result, would likely permit countervailing duties to be applied to Chinese imports and direct the Treasury secretary to initiate negotiations with Beijing to revalue its currency. Criticizes China's piracy of American intellectual property, and its industrial subsidies. Generally calls for a more level playing field on U.S.-China trade.


Trade enforcement Promises to strengthen funding and staffing to enforce trade agreements. Would also pressure the World Trade Organization to improve its enforcement. Wants to eliminate tax advantages for U.S. firms' overseas operations and instead provide tax credits for companies that keep their headquarters at home and that maintain or increase their U.S. labor force relative to their overseas workforce.

Displaced workers Wants to update the existing Trade Adjustment Assistance program to include service workers, create flexible education accounts to help workers retrain, provide retraining assistance for workers before they lose their jobs in sectors of the economy vulnerable to dislocation, provide assistance to hard-hit communities, and improve the health care tax credit for dislocated workers.

Key Advisers

The campaign recently brought on economist and former Clinton aide Jason Furman, who once headed the centrist Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, as director of economic policy. He supplants University of Chicago professor Austan Goolsbee, who remains a major adviser but whose star dimmed after he reportedly told the Canadians not to worry about Obama's anti-NAFTA rhetoric. On currency and foreign investment, Obama relies on Daniel Tarullo, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, who held several senior positions in the Clinton administration, culminating in assistant to the president for international economic policy. Michael Wessel, the chief trade adviser to then-Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., when he was House majority leader, provides congressional context and ties to organized labor.



China currency: On a 2005 procedural vote on legislation proposed by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to force Beijing to strengthen the renminbi, voted with the majority to keep the proposal alive. The Senate never held a final vote.

Dominican Republic-Central America-U.S. Free Trade Agreement: At the time of the 2005 vote, stated his belief that expanding trade and breaking down barriers between countries is good for the economy and security and would be particularly good for Illinois farmers; but he voted no, contending that the deal did less to protect labor than previous agreements and failed to adequately address environmental standards. In The Audacity of Hope, called his vote a protest against the White House's inattention to those hurt by free trade.

Oman Free Trade Agreement: Voted for the deal in 2006, saying that it did not threaten American workers and could help improve relations with the Middle East.

Peru Free Trade Agreement: Publicly supported the 2007 agreement, which included labor and environmental standards enforceable through trade sanctions, but missed the vote.


Key Interest Groups

AFL-CIO: Has endorsed Obama, citing his commitment to "fair trade." Organized labor, which has long sought tougher labor standards in trade agreements, backs Obama's promise to include such protections in future deals. Opposes the Colombia trade agreement because of the killings of union leaders there and the South Korea free-trade deal because of insufficient market access for U.S. autos and other manufactured products. Would like to see a President Obama take the Doha Round of multilateral trade talks in a different direction.

Public Citizen Global Trade Watch: Does not endorse candidates. Argues that "corporate globalization" is not free trade. A strong critic of the Doha Round, the World Trade Organization, the Colombia, Peru, and Korea free-trade deals, and fast-track negotiating authority, Supports renegotiation of existing trade pacts.

This article appears in the July 26, 2008 edition of National Journal Magazine Contents.

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