Mitt Romney repeated a message he's pushed since early on in his campaign this Thursday: President Barack Obama hasn't negotiated any trade agreements since taking office.
"During the last three and a half years, China and European Union nations have negotiated, or are in the middle of negotiations for, about 44 different trade agreements," Romney said to the Business Roundtable (BRT), an association of CEOs from leading U.S. companies with over $6 trillion in annual revenues. "This administration has negotiated none. None. Three were finally approved by the Senate, but the president dragged his heels on them for three years before putting them through, again I presume, bowing to the demands of organized labor."
This, however, would be news to some of the Republican-leaning associations, including the BRT, that have worked closely with Obama on the passage of three separate trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.
When Obama signed all three of those long-stalled trade deals into law on Oct. 21, 2011, the BRT hailed the occasion as "a significant and long-awaited moment for the U.S. economy."
“We’ve still got work to do to further open international markets to U.S. goods and services," Doug Oberhelman, chairman and CEO of Caterpillar Inc., and chair of the BRT’s International Engagement Committee, said in a statement. "The bipartisan support garnered by these trade agreements gives me confidence that we are starting to move in the right direction.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a pro-business association with heavy ties to the Republican Party, also lauded the Obama administration and Congress for putting politics aside in approving those three agreements.
“At a time when many people think Washington is broken, members of Congress from both parties and the administration put American jobs first by making these trade agreements a reality,” Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. “It means we will immediately stop losing jobs to our competitors who have cut their own deals and we can start creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs for Americans.”
Romney has continuously used trade as a major talking point in his campaign, asserting that the president deserves no credit for the passage of trade agreements that were originally negotiated by former President George W. Bush.
When asked by The Huffington Post whether the Chamber of Congress agreed with Romney's assessment about the president's absence on the issue, it pointed to its earlier press releases that praised Obama's passage of the agreements.
Romney's comments appear to suggest that Obama wasn't actively involved in negotiating or passing the three trade deals, but merely allowed a process that began during the Bush administration to reach its logical conclusion.
That criticism ignores the fact that Bush was unable to get the deals done with an opposition Congress. It also ignores the difficult steps that the Obama administration undertook to reconstitute parts of the deals with which it did not agree.
The president renegotiated with South Korea to include new terms for auto tariffs, which made the deal more beneficial to U.S. automakers. The South Korea deal has been hailed as the most consequential trade pact since the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, with the potential to create as many as 280,000 American jobs and boost exports by more than $12 billion, according to an assessment by the U.S. International Trade Commission.
Ultimately, Obama was able to find enough middle ground with Republican lawmakers to pass the agreements with overwhelming support.