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Obama's new tune on trade

Candidate Obama opposed new free-trade agreements and wanted to renegotiate NAFTA. A global slump has changed his mind.

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U.S. Trade Representative: Ron Kirk, shown here at a press conference at the World Trade Organization in Geneva, has been working 'furiously,' he says, to push a new free-trade agreement through Congress.

Anja Niedringhaus/AP

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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.

And NAFTA? White House aides let it be known around the time of the president's April trip to Mexico that the regional trade agreement would not be renegotiated.

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.

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