Obama starts new push on trade

The Obama administration is reaching out to business-friendly Democrats to
win support for free-trade policies that divide the party.

The effort is part of President Barack Obama’s push on trade that
was launched with his State of the Union address. Obama said he wanted
to double exports over the next five years as part of an effort to
grow the U.S. economy.

{mosads}The administration’s move was reinforced by a speech this week by Commerce Secretary
Gary Locke on increasing exports. Locke focused on programs that could
help small businesses increase their exports, as well as trade
missions led by his department.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk met members of the business-
friendly New Democrats Coalition on Thursday to discuss the trade
agenda. The Democrats spoke to Kirk about pending trade deals with
South Korea, Colombia and Panama that have stalled in the Democratic-led
Congress, according to Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.).

Moving any of those deals will be difficult because of opposition in
Obama’s own party.

Legislation calling for existing trade deals to be re-negotiated has
won the support of half the House Democratic caucus. And
administration officials from the president on down have been careful
when addressing trade matters.

In the State of the Union, Obama spoke of strengthening “trade
relations” with “key partners” like South Korea, Panama and Colombia,
but did not call on Congress to pass trade pacts already negotiated
with the three countries.

He also didn’t explicitly speak of the deals, which were all negotiated by the Bush administration.
Striking a similar note, experts from Kirk’s speech to the New
Democrats posted on USTR’s web site did not mention the three
agreements, which are all opposed by organized labor.

In November, Obama said he wanted the South Korea trade deal passed in 2010.

“Trying to boost exports is a fine goal, but until the administration
implements President Obama’s campaign commitments to reform the trade
agreements we now have in place, trade agreements that promote
offshoring U.S. investment and jobs and flood us with imports, the
possible job gains of export promotion will be swamped by the
continuing damage of the failed, old trade deals so many Americans
despise,” Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade
Watch, wrote in a statement this week.

Wallach supports the legislation calling for the re-negotiating of
existing trade deals.

Smith said he believes the Panama deal could be approved this year by
Congress, but he described the Colombia and South Korean deals as
harder sells.

He said trade supporters, including Obama, must emphasize that the
trade deals they are pushing include strengthened labor and
environmental rules that ensure the U.S. is getting a better deal than
in agreements previously negotiated.

Smith added that Obama’s statements in the State of the Union address were
helpful, but that the president needs to make those statements more

Kirk and the New Democrats also discussed changing rules governing the
export of high-tech goods, as well as export programs highlighted in Locke’s speech.

A spokeswoman for Kirk said he is working to set up meetings with
other groups of Democrats.

Members of the New Democrats sent a letter to Obama on Thursday that
said they were “eager” to work with the administration to push forward
trade deals that would open markets for U.S. investment.

The letter hailed trade deals as driving more than 50 percent of U.S.

Tags Adam Smith Barack Obama

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