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Indications from Kirk that the U.S. won’t look inward and his meetings with officials from Colombia and Panama about ways to move the pending free trade deals forward also demonstrated the administration is willing to follow up its change in tone with action, Jaeger said.
“It looks like he’s loosening up a little bit,” said Carol Hochman, president and chief executive officer of Triumph Apparel Group, licensee and manufacturer of Danskin, and chairwoman of the American Apparel & Footwear Association. “It seems like he’s going to get much more pragmatic and reasonable about trade.”
Domestic textile officials are closely monitoring the latest developments.
“We’re seeing some less than aggressive actions,” said Cass Johnson, president of the National Council of Textile Organizations. “I think everyone is acknowledging that the global crisis has really thrown a new element into the mix. [The administration is] taking a cautious approach to trade in general, not being aggressive on the side of unfair trade practices yet, but they’re not being particularly aggressive on trade liberalization.”
Bruce Raynor, general president of UNITE HERE, said he remains 100 percent behind Obama on trade, despite recent statements he will pursue the pact with Panama and is reviewing outstanding issues associated with the pact with Colombia.
“President Obama is the one president in my lifetime who has been the most committed to protect U.S. manufacturing jobs and he hasn’t shifted one iota on that,” said Raynor, adding he is not surprised Obama has pivoted away from some of stronger campaign trade talk, particularly on China, in the context of a broader foreign policy picture. “You don’t run the United States of America in silos. China is a currency manipulator and it is also the most populous country in the world, an important holder of U.S. debt and a country that the U.S. has to relate to, so [Obama’s] comments and actions regarding China have to be multifaceted.”
Still, Obama’s new tone on trade has not gone unchallenged. In recent days, some key “fair trade” Democrats that oppose the three pending trade deals with Panama, Colombia and South Korea, have sounded warnings about Obama’s shift in tone.
“It was a popular campaign issue, but now that the campaign is over we are seeing a rollback on promises made, including NAFTA renegotiation and taking an aggressive stance on China currency manipulation,” said Rep. Mike Michaud (D., Maine), co-chair of the House Trade Working Group. “While it’s still unclear how the administration will move forward on Panama, Colombia and South Korea, I believe the American worker spoke loud and clear during this past election cycle. They are sick and tired of their jobs being shipped overseas. They want the economy to get moving again and believe our trade policies have put the worker at a major disadvantage.”