Candidate Obama opposed new free-trade agreements and wanted to renegotiate NAFTA. A global slump has changed his mind.
In the heat of last year's Democratic primary in Ohio, when the party's presidential nomination was in the balance, then-Sen. Barack Obama vilified US trade policy – as practiced by both the Bush and Clinton administrations. He opposed pending free-trade agreements with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea, and he advocated reopening and renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Fifteen months later, President Obama is whistling a different trade tune.
Having named Texan and NAFTA advocate Ron Kirk his US trade representative, Obama is pushing for passage in Congress of the Panama trade pact, perhaps this fall. He wants the same for the Colombia and South Korea accords.
What happened? It's the difference between running for president and formulating policy as president, some trade-policy analysts say. Obama, in tackling a global economic downturn that had worsened as the campaign went on, is coming down on the side of those who see expanded trade as part of a ticket out of the recession.
"You just knew that as president, [Obama] would have to come around to a more centrist view," says David Orden, a trade-policy analyst with the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington. He laments that the rhetoric during the presidential campaign was "not constructive for the public's understanding of trade issues."
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