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Appearing on the campaign trail in Ohio Monday, President Obama spoke about his administration's new trade enforcement action against China for illegal export subsidies on auto parts. Obama didn't hesitate to draw a strong contrast between his record on China and that of Mitt Romney:
"My opponent has been running around Ohio claiming he’s going to roll up his sleeves and he’s going take the fight to China," the president said to a crowd of 4,500 at a hillside park here. "Here’s the thing: his experience has been owning companies that were called pioneers in the business of outsourcing jobs to countries like China."
"Ohio," the president declared, "you can’t stand up to China when all you’ve done is send them our jobs."
Since the trade complaint was filed less than two months before the election, it's being reported in that light. Mitt Romney is calling it a "campaign-season trade case" that "may sound good on the stump," and the political press, always inclined to see any piece of news as election-related, is doing its share of "why now?" But it's not like this is the first American trade complaint against China under Obama. It's just the one you're hearing about, precisely because it is election season, and as White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said, "It’s not as if because we’re in the midst of an election that we should wait until next year to take these steps on behalf of American workers."
Workers do stand to benefit: According to the Alliance for American Manufacturing's Scott Paul, "We've seen imports of Chinese auto parts surge by 25 percent in each of the past two years. We've seen our trade deficit in auto parts with China grow nearly 900 percent in just 10 years," endangering more than 42,000 jobs in Pennsylvania alone.
This complaint isn't exactly a first, either. The U.S. had trade complaints against China on wind power subsidies and chicken tariffs in 2011. Earlier this year, the WTO ruled in favor of the U.S. on steel tariffs, and the U.S. filed a complaint against Chinese duties on American cars. Granted there's a whole lot more the administration could and should do to address trade issues with China, but an election season one-off this is not.
2:38 PM PT: In his complete remarks at that Ohio campaign event, President Obama made a strong case that this is not just an election season thing:
When other countries don’t play by the rules, we’ve done something about it. We’ve brought more trade cases against China in one term than the previous administration did in two. And every case we’ve brought that's been decided, we won.
When Governor Romney said that stopping unfair surges in Chinese tires would be bad for America, bad for our workers, we ignored his advice, and we got over 1,000 Americans back to work creating tires right here in the United States of America.