But the president and his party "have done worse than just stand still (on trade). They've actively backtracked, adopting protectionist measures that soothe special interests but leave the vast majority of U.S. companies and their workers even more handicapped in our highly competitive global economy," Heritage Foundation fellow James Roberts said in a trade analysis this summer. One major example of the administration's hostility to trade was the "Buy America" procurement provision in last year's stimulus bill that enraged our trading partners. Obama has continued to waffle on the issue, declining to submit the three trade agreements in his desk drawer for approval, saying he wanted to renegotiate them first.
Meantime, "free trade policies are more popular around the world today than ever before," according to a recent Heritage study that also showed the most prosperous countries are the ones with the most open trade policies. "Recessions typically spark short-sighted calls for protectionism, so you'd expect a broad retrenchment of trade freedom during a global recession," writes Bryan Riley, Heritage's senior trade policy analyst.
"Instead, Heritage found the vast majority of countries last year maintained or even strengthened their commitment to free trade," his study of trade freedom in 178 countries found.
In the last decade, free trade scores improved in 142 countries and declined in only 11. There is a "world-wide movement toward freer markets," he said. "Trade freedom stands at a record high."
Overall, his study found that 85 countries improved their scores over the past year, 39 of them by a full point or more, while only 36 regressed. Sadly, the U.S. was one the countries that slipped slightly as a result of an increase in the average tariff rates imposed on imports.
But as the economy showed continuing signs of weakness that resisted all of his "snake oil" spending remedies, someone apparently told Obama that expanding global trade deals would open up markets for U.S. goods and create more jobs here at home.
So the president is traveling the global trade route across Asia this week, appealing for more access to its growing markets, offering to sell more made-in-America goods, including $10 billion in military and civilian aircraft, jet engines and mining equipment for India.
But it would be wrong to think that Obama is truly a new convert to free trade. He is doing this out of sheer economic frustration -- and desperation -- over his failed jobs policies.
"I do get discouraged (about the economy)," he admitted Sunday in an interview on CBS's 60 Minutes, just before leaving on his trip. "I thought the economy would have gotten better by now."