President Obama's two-day bus tour headed to northern Ohio on Thursday, where he touted a new U.S. complaint with the World Trade Organization against China for imposing more than $3 billion in duties on American-produced automobiles.
Northern Ohio is home to several major auto suppliers and their employees — votes Mr. Obama must secure to solidify a win in this critical swing state.
During a stop at a museum in a suburb of Toledo, Mr. Obama stressed his role in securing the auto industry bailout, as well as his administration's string of successful WTO complaints against China.
"Three years later, the auto industry has come roaring back," he said. "That Chrysler plant up the road is bringing on another 1,100 employees; the Wrangler, built right here in Toledo, just set an all-time sales record."
He also attempted to paint Republican rival Mitt Romney as an out-of-touch advocate for Wall Street and the wealthy who would have let the auto industry fail during the height of the economic crisis and, during his time at Bain Capital, was a major proponent of outsourcing American jobs.
"Gov. Romney's experiences have been owning companies that were called pioneers of outsourcing," Mr. Obama told the crowd. "My experience has been saving the American auto industry ... creating more security for your community.
"That's why my administration has brought trade cases against China at a faster pace than the previous administration," he said. "That's why my administration brought a case today against China ... to hold China accountable for unfair trade practices."
China, which recently became the world's biggest automobile market, has placed import taxes on nearly 80 percent of the U.S. cars and sport utility vehicles exported to the country, including Jeep's Wrangler and Grand Cherokee, both made by Chrysler LLC, as well as General Motors Co.'s Buick Enclave and Cadillac CTS, according to a White House fact sheet.
The Romney campaign poked fun at Mr. Obama's bus tour's theme of "Betting on America," and reminding voters about the struggling economic recovery with nationwide unemployment remaining above 8 percent for 3½ years.
"We shouldn't double down on Barack Obama," said former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Romney surrogate who was on his own bus tour through Ohio and Pennsylvania. "His presidency has been a losing hand for Ohio, and it's been a losing hand for the country.
"Families, moms and dads, [are] not being able to achieve or see their dreams because they don't have a job or are worried about losing a job," he said.
Late last year, Chinese trade officials began imposing both anti-dumping and other duties on imports of American cars after determining that American-made automobile imports were being sold at less than fair value in the Chinese market and had benefited from subsidies.
The Obama administration disputes these claims and argues that China is retaliating against the U.S. for a decision three years ago to impose a "safeguard measure" against Chinese imports.
"As we have made clear, the Obama administration will continue to fight to ensure that China does not misuse its trade laws and violate its international trade commitments to block exports of American-made products," U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in a statement. "American autoworkers and manufacturers deserve a level playing field, and we are taking every step necessary to stand up for them."
The WTO complaint is the latest in a series of steps the Obama administration has taken against China to try to force the country to abide by commitments made when it joined the WTO In 2001.
In two earlier cases, the U.S. challenged duties China had imposed to restrict certain steel imports, chicken products and several industrial raw materials, including rare earth minerals, as well as solar panels and wind-turbine products.
The repeated clashes have led some analysts to predict that the two countries are headed for a trade war. Advocates for the U.S. manufacturing industry applauded the Obama administration's moves against Beijing, noting that Chinese auto parts are surging into America while less than 1 percent of the estimated 18 million vehicles sold in China last year were made in the U.S.
"This administration has a stellar record on enforcing America's trade laws and has not hesitated to take action to defend American workers — today's announcement is further proof of that. But, there is more work to do," said Scott Paul, executive director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing.
"Unless strong steps are taken now to also defend American auto-parts jobs, the efforts of the auto companies, unions and the administration to revitalize the American auto sector could be washed away in a matter of a few years," he said.
But the Romney campaign argued that Mr. Obama has failed to get tough on China's trade practices, and specifically has refused to accuse China of manipulating currency.
"On issues important to the people of Ohio, President Obama has utterly failed to deliver," Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said in a statement, citing the loss of more than a half-million manufacturing jobs since Joseph R. Biden's campaign trip to the same Ohio town in 2008 as vice-presidential candidate.
"Four years ago, Vice President Biden came to Maumee to decry the national debt, which was then $8 trillion," she said. "Today, the Obama-Biden administration has presided over an unprecedented explosion in our national debt, which is now approaching $16 trillion. Meanwhile, America has lost over half a million manufacturing jobs since President Obama took office, and he has broken his campaign promise to get tough on China's trade practices."
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