Obama touts WTO case; timing questioned

Sept. 17, 2012 at 3:52 PM
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CINCINNATI, Sept. 17 (UPI) -- Touting his administration's trade enforcement case against China, U.S. President Obama said Monday he walks the walk while his Republican rival talks the talk.

"You can talk a good game, but I like to walk the walk, not just talk the talk," Obama said during a campaign event in Cincinnati. "And my experience has been waking up every single day doing everything I can to give American workers a fair shot in the global economy."

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk announced Monday the United States filed a legal complaint with the Chinese government at the World Trade Organization concerning China's auto and auto parts "export base" subsidy program.

Under the program, China gives huge subsidies to auto and auto parts producers located in designated regions, called "export bases," that meet export performance requirements.

China's program appears to provide export subsidies that are prohibited under WTO rules because they severely distort trade, Kirk's office said in a release. The subsidies provide an unfair advantage to auto and auto parts manufacturers based in China that compete with producers in the United States and other countries.

Kirk's office said the export bases made at least $1 billion in subsidies available to auto and auto-parts exporters in China between 2009 and 2011, based on public documents.

"When other countries don't play by the rules, we've done something about it," Obama said at the event.

Obama's campaign has rolled out a push-back to Romney's argument that he will crack down on China's "unfair trade policies," The Hill reported. Romney has promised to label China a currency manipulator on the first day of his presidency.

Romney, in a statement issued by his campaign, said the trade case and its announcement amounted to nothing but a political stunt.

"President Obama has spent 43 months failing to confront China's unfair trade practices," Romney said in the statement. "Campaign-season trade cases may sound good on the stump, but it is too little, too late for American businesses and middle-class families."

If elected, Romney pledged that "from Day One, I will pursue a comprehensive strategy to confront China's unfair trade practices and ensure a level playing field where our businesses can compete and win."

Members of the media also questioned the timing of the administration's actions and Obama's discussion of them.

During a media briefing aboard Air Force 1 traveling to Cincinnati, several reporters asked White House spokesman Josh Earnest about the timing, with one reporter saying, "Having this announced on a day when the president was campaigning ... does seem like a pretty remarkable coincidence."

After saying the decisions and announcement weren't political, Earnest was peppered with questions seeking an explanation about the timing of both.

"As a candidate for re-election, the president has a responsibility to balance his responsibilities, both as a candidate for re-election but also as president of the United States," Earnest said. "There is particular resonance in this issue in Ohio, because as I mentioned, there are tens of thousands of workers who are employed in the auto parts manufacturing sector. So it's natural that there are workers in Ohio who are going to be interested in this announcement."

Earnest said the administration wasn't concerned about whether the issue looked like a "political football" because Obama's record "speaks for itself."

"When you look at the cases that this administration has brought before the WTO, that have been adjudicated by the WTO, we've won every single one," Earnest said. "So it's pretty clear that when we're taking action before the WTO, we're not looking for symbolic victories or helpful headlines. We're looking for concrete action that will level the playing field for American workers."

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