President Obama is now suddenly promoting the benefits of free trade after he and his party ignored the issue and kept three agreements on the shelf for the past two years.
Throughout his 2008 campaign, Obama was openly hostile to the free trade pacts, and to the successful North American Free Trade Agreement, especially at labor union rallies. It alarmed Canada, our largest trading partner, to the point where Obama's longtime economic adviser Austan Goolsbee met with Canadian officials and assured them the anti-NAFTA talk was for campaign consumption only and should not be taken seriously.
But global trading countries have learned otherwise. Obama has done nothing to seek ratification of tariff-reducing trade agreements with South Korea, Columbia and Panama that were negotiated under George W. Bush. The White House sat on the pacts, while congressional Democratic leaders denounced them and allowed fast-track trade negotiating authority to expire.
The result: U.S. exports, which climbed rapidly in the past decade, reaching $1.7 trillion annually, have declined, further weakening our job market here at home.
Now Obama is in the midst of a whirlwind trade-promoting tour of India, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan aimed at opening up Asian markets to U.S. goods and services and boosting the lagging U.S. economy.
Indeed, he's beginning to sound like a born-again free trader, which would have drawn him much praise from free-market economist Milton Friedman.
"I'm here because I believe that in our interconnected world, increased commerce between the United States and India can be a win-win proposition for both nations," Obama told the U.S.-India Business Council this week. And in an apparent admonition to his party's liberal union base back home, he added, "I realize that for some, this truth may not be readily apparent."
Just where and when Obama got religion on free trade remains a mystery, but I suspect a feeble economic recovery, with mediocre economic growth rates of between 1.7 percent and 2 percent, and unemployment stuck at nearly 10 percent had something to do with it.
Losing 60 House seats to the Republicans and six seats in the Senate has a way of refocusing the mind, especially if one is focused on winning the election in 2012.
His stimulus-spending binge isn't working. His advisers are telling him the sky-high unemployment rate isn't going down much anytime soon and may worsen. He will need to boost job creation to 300,000 a month to bring down unemployment. Last month's 151,000 jobs didn't cut it.
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