CINCINNATI -- President Obama chose a campaign setting in a key manufacturing-dependent state to announce a new complaint with the World Trade Organization alleging that China was illegally subsidizing exports of autos and auto parts.
The complaint is a sign, Obama said, that he is not just “talking the talk” when it comes to being tough on the Asian economic giant.
Aides said the new action was “months in the making,” the work of a new unit the president created this year to more aggressively pursue trade complaints against China and other countries. But the timing was conspicuous, with just 50 days left until Election Day, and 15 before Ohio voters can begin casting ballots through early voting.
The complaint filed by the U.S. Trade Representative says that China has provided at least $1 billion in export-contingent subsidies between 2009 and 2011, in violation of WTO rules and the nation's own agreement upon joining the organization in 2001.
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The administration also is asking the WTO for a dispute settlement panel to consider another case that was brought in July, challenging China for imposing duties on more than $3 billion in American-produced automobiles.
The president, blending his roles as candidate and incumbent officeholder, discussed the complaint in the same state where just last week, GOP rival Mitt Romney contended that Obama had failed American workers by not labeling China a currency manipulator.
“He's been running around Ohio claiming he's going to roll up his sleeves and he's going to take the fight to China,” the president said. “Here's the thing. His experience has been owning companies that were called pioneers in the business of outsourcing jobs to countries like China.”
“Now, you can't stand up to China when all you've done is send them our jobs.”
Obama said that his administration has taken action from the very beginning, and has now filed more WTO complaints in less than one term than the George W. Bush administration had in two.
“You can talk a good game, but -- but I like to walk the walk, not just talk the talk,” he said. “My experience has been waking up every single day and doing everything I can to make sure American workers get a fair shot in the global economy.”
In a statement, Romney said the administration’s actions were “too little, too late,” and an election-year effort to distract voters. White House spokesman Josh Earnest countered that the complaint was “months in the making.”
The administration’s auto rescue has figured prominently in the Obama campaign’s strategy in Ohio, whose 18 electoral votes are once again sure to be key to the final outcome nationally. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last week showed Obama leading Romney in the Buckeye State 50% to 43%.
The state's auto manufacturing hub is elsewhere, largely centered in and around Toledo, where the president campaigned earlier this month. That stop included a Labor Day breakfast with a trio of area auto workers. But one in eight jobs statewide is tied to the auto supply chain.
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“Ohio, if you stand with me, if you choose the path we're talking about, we're going to help big factories and small businesses double their exports, and we'll sell more goods around the world stamped with ‘Made in America,’ and we'll create a million new manufacturing jobs in the next four years,” Obama said.
Obama signaled here his intention to continue making an aggressive case against the Republican vision on the economy, one week after the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other diplomatic personnel amid violence tied to an anti-Islamic video.
The president did say that recent world events underscore continued threats to America, and that “we can't just pull back.”
“We've got to stay engaged and involved for our security. But we've also got to remain vigilant. That's why so long as I'm commander in chief, we will always have the strongest military the world has ever known,” he said.
The campaign signaled that it feels it still has the advantage on national security and foreign policy, in part owing to Romney’s handling of the crisis last week, and a “disastrous trip overseas” in July that spokeswoman Jen Psaki said raises the question of “whether his team is ready for prime time when it comes to these issues.”
Responding to Obama’s attack on Romney’s private sector record, Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said the president was “recycling false and debunked attacks because he can’t tell the people of Ohio about his record of fewer jobs, more debt, and lower incomes.”
“Even members of his own party have loudly condemned his inaction toward China,” he said. “But it’s middle-class Americans who have paid the real price for President Obama’s weak, ineffective leadership.”
Obama has one more campaign stop in Columbus, Ohio, on Monday, the start of a busy week of campaigning. On Tuesday, he will raise money in New York, and tape an appearance on CBS' “Late Show with David Letterman.”
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