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October 13, 2011

Where’s Romney? Trade, Especially With China
Posted by Jacob Stokes

Welcome to the second installment of DA’s exploration of where Mitt Romney stands on the foreign policy issues of the day. With Senate passage earlier this week of a bill to pressure China to appreciate its currency and the three long-awaited free trade agreements passing last night, trade is the issue d’jour. 

Romney has taken notice and begun calling out Chinese trade and currency practices and promising to do something about them “on day one,” if he is elected. Matt Yglesias has a good roundup of Romney’s proposals here. Those proposals focus mostly on the currency issue, which is just one part of U.S. trade disputes with China. Romney also has a video out today bashing President Obama for his supposed lack of action on protecting intellectual property from Chinese counterfeiters, and he’s giving a speech this afternoon in Redmond, Washington, home of Microsoft, presumably on that subject. 

So, according to Romney’s statements, he’s in favor or pressuring China on trade. When opportunities to do so have come up in practice though, his record says the opposite. According to the Club for Growth, a group which has as much stake as anyone in assuring a Romney victory: “In his recent book, Romney also voiced his opposition to President Bush’s steel tariff decision and President Obama’s decision to impose tariffs on foreign tires.” Bush 43’s steel tariff decision affected a number of countries, but was mainly aimed at China. Obama’s tire tariffs called out China directly.

In addition, as AFP’s Oliver Knox notes here and here, Romney today announced Carlos Gutierrez, who was Bush's Secretary of Commerce from 2005 to 2009, as part of his trade advisory team. But as Knox notes: “as commerce secretary, Gutierrez lobbied against a far weaker version of the China currency bill Romney now supports.”

As for intellectual property, Romney brings up an important issue. The Obama administration has frequently confronted Chinese officials in bilateral and multilateral fora, calling for greater protection. But as CFR’s Adam Segal points out, enforcement is and would be tough for any president.

Two questions flow from this: If Romney claims to back action against unfair Chinese trade and currency practices, why hasn’t that support shown in the form of endorsing concrete measures taken by members of both parties against such practices. Also, why don't his advisors back his stated positions? Secondly, on the specific issue of intellectual property protection, what direct action does Romney propose taking against China to stop theft?

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