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What others say: Voters must pay attention to free-trade positions

Published: Wednesday, May 23 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

In this Friday, May 4, 2012, file photo Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney campaigns in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Jae C. Hong, Associated Press

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The following editorial appeared recently in the Seattle Times:

Airplanes, software, seafood and agriculture are four of the many reasons Americans have a political interest in international trade. We need a president who will promote reasonable rules rather than resentments and restrictions.

Regarding trade, the choice between President Obama and Mitt Romney is troubling. It is also uncertain because on this issue Americans have learned not to believe anything their candidates say.

Obama ran in 2008 appealing to resentment of trade, as did all the Democratic contenders that year. They did this to win the blue-collar vote in the swing states of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

When Obama came out against the North American Free Trade Agreement, promising to renegotiate it, his economic adviser Austan Goolsbee whispered to the Canadians: Don't believe what we say. It's an election.

Obama wasn't as anti-trade as he made out to be, and be thankful for that. He didn't open up NAFTA. He pushed through the trade agreements negotiated under George W. Bush with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.

The Korea agreement is particularly important, but it took Obama three years to do it, and on trade he has done not much else. Compared with Bill Clinton, who pushed through NAFTA, approved the World Trade Organization and started the trade normalization with China, Obama comes up short.

Mitt Romney has said flatly he is for free trade. Then again, the Republican candidate has picked a fight with China. In Ohio, he said, "How is it China's been so successful in taking away our jobs? Well let me tell you how: by cheating." He added, "This president has just sat idly by and watched that happen ... They've walked all over him."

Romney has also promised that on his first day in office he will label China a currency manipulator, forcing China to negotiate over the value of its money.

Romney was a funder of companies. He knows that jobs come through cooperating and investing, not by drawing a line in the sand and daring the other guy to cross it. He also knows that the economic success of China has not come mainly by cheating. He is running for office, and it's a good bet some of these stances will be moderated if he gets the chance to govern.

Still voters must pay attention and vet the candidates.

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