President Obama has not negotiated a single free trade agreement during his term as president, ignoring one of the best engines of job growth even as he claims that jobs are his biggest priority.
Instead, Obama has actually hindered free trade agreements with Colombia and South Korea negotiated by George W. Bush but not approved by Congress during Bush’s presidency, acceding to labor’s wishes that he renegotiate the deals before sending them to Capitol Hill. The Colombia and South Korea deals, along with another Bush-negotiated agreement with Panama, were not submitted to Congress until October 2011, when they were finally ratified.
The failure to negotiate free trade deals is clearly U.S. policy. Instead of being fired, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk remains close to the president, anointed as the only senior Obama aide allowed to golf regularly with the president – most recently on April 29.
Bush negotiated 11 free trade agreements, including the Colombia, Korea and Panama deals as well as agreements with Chile, Australia, Bahrain, Morocco, Oman, Peru, Singapore, and a joint arrangement with the other Central American countries.
Bill Clinton was far more aggressive on trade than Obama. He negotiated the historic and politically risky North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, as well as a free trade agreement with Jordan. He also opened up the China market by negotiating a Sino-U.S. deal for permanent normal trade relations and spent his final year in office jamming it through Congress.
Free trade agreements generally help boost U.S. employment, particularly in manufacturing, because they knock down high tariffs and other trade barriers in other countries. The United States often has to do less to on its end because our trade barriers are usually already low.
But unions oppose free trade because it opens up the U.S. market to cheaper goods made by lower-wage, often non-union workers overseas who become competitors with higher-priced U.S. union labor.