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Obama urges level playing field with China on trade
Published on: 2010-07-08
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In an attempt to create jobs through export growth and reassure U.S. business leaders that he is committed to trade, Obama singled out China as a key market where American firms would like to sell.

"Our discussion with China has also addressed the important challenge of how to create a more level playing field for American companies seeking to expand their access to the growing Chinese market," Obama said.

General Electric Co CEO Jeffrey Immelt was quoted last week as saying the Chinese government was growing increasingly protectionist and his manufacturing conglomerate was eyeing better prospects elsewhere.

Obama again "welcomed China's decision to allow its currency to appreciate in response to market forces," which Washington says will help make U.S. exports more competitive.

The Obama administration is expected to decline to name China as a currency manipulator in a regular report to Congress that could be delivered any day.

Obama vowed to push ahead with trade agreements and seek approval for stalled deals with three countries, in an acceleration of his trade agenda to boost growth by doubling exports in 5 years.

"At a time when jobs are in short supply, building exports is an imperative. But this isn't just about where jobs are today. This is where American jobs will be tomorrow," Obama said as he delivered a progress report on the ambitious export target for 2015 that he announced in January.

Last month Obama laid out a timetable for a long-delayed free trade agreement with South Korea, and said on Wednesday he wanted to iron out remaining issues related to U.S. trade deals with Panama and Colombia.

"We're focused on submitting them as soon as possible for congressional consideration," he said, but gave no timeline.

U.S. growth has returned after a severe recession, but hopes for an enduring upturn -- and a lift to hiring that pulls back U.S. unemployment from levels near 10 percent -- will depend in large part on the strength of its sales abroad.

Obama has been criticized by some in the business community for not being a convincing free-trade advocate, as well as for overly optimistic forecasts on export growth that will require more commitment to open up trade than he has shown so far.

"We're looking for the president to have a robust trade agenda that will create jobs in our economy. The answer is not just talking about it, but acting on it," said Myron Brilliant at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington.

But Obama must navigate a delicate domestic political path in an election year as he pushes free trade. Some members of his own Democratic Party, and its backers in organized labor, fear trade can hurt U.S. workers more than it helps American business unless fair play is enforced.

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