CINCINNATI — President Obama used a campaign stop in Ohio on Monday to take aim at China and Mitt Romney by announcing a trade complaint against China for subsidizing auto parts made for export and amplifying attacks on Mr. Romney’s investments in companies that ship jobs overseas.
As the president seeks to solidify his post-convention lead in the critical swing state with stops in Columbus and Cincinnati, his administration asked the World Trade Organization (WTO) to review up to $1 billion worth of subsidies China gave to its own auto and auto-parts industries between 2009 and 2011 and to accelerate a WTO investigation of Chinese levies on U.S.-made cars, a separate case the White House first pursued earlier this year.
“These are subsidies that directly harm working men and women on the assembly line in Ohio and Michigan and across the Midwest,” Mr. Obama said. “It is not right. It is against the rules, and we will not let it stand.”
In launching the new trade enforcement case against China, Mr. Obama is focusing on an economic issue that resonates with Ohio voters and has become a flash point in the campaign, with GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney repeatedly pledging to get tough with China on trade issues if elected.
Quickly responding, the government of China announced a new trade complaint against the United States, protesting anti-dumping measures against its exports, including kitchen appliances, magnets and paper.
Unlike Mr. Romney, Mr. Obama says he has plenty of experience standing up to China, filing more WTO complaints in one term than former President George W. Bush did in two terms. If Mr. Romney really cares about holding China accountable, Mr. Obama said Monday, he wouldn’t continue to hold investments in companies that keep costs low by relying on Chinese factory workers and wouldn’t support a tax plan Democrats say could encourage companies to outsource jobs overseas.
“Now, I understand my opponent has been running around Ohio claiming he’s going to roll up his sleeves and take the fight to China,” Mr. Obama said during his stop in Columbus. “But here’s the thing: His experience has been owning companies that were called ‘pioneers’ in the business of outsourcing jobs to countries like China … Ohio, you can’t stand up to China when all you’ve done is send them our jobs.”
In Ohio, the auto-parts industry directly employs 54,200 people, and the sector indirectly impacts 850,000 total jobs, or 12.4 percent of the economy, the White House said.
The administration’s WTO action directly addresses criticism from Republicans and Mr. Romney, who regularly attacks Mr. Obama for failing to aggressively challenge China to abide by international trade laws. On Friday, while campaigning in Painesville, Ohio, Mr. Romney said he would demand that China stop manipulating its currency or face tariffs.
Obama campaign and administration officials insist the action is not motivated by politics, pointing to a number of successful complaints the U.S. trade representative has filed with the WTO during Mr. Obama’s tenure.
Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Air Force One that Mr. Romney had “a special kind of chutzpah that he is going to criticize the president on an issue that he has been such a strong advocate and fighter for.”
The Romney campaign called the administration’s trade complaints “a blatantly political move.” The Romney camp said the move highlights Mr. Obama’s “unwillingness to crack down on cheating China in Ohio and across the country,” and only happened because Mr. Romney had focused attention on the issue.
“President Obama may think that announcing new trade cases less than two months from Election Day will distract from his record, but the American businesses and workers struggling on an uneven playing field know better,” Mr. Romney said at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce meeting in Los Angeles. “If I’d known all it took to get him to take action was to run an ad citing his inaction on China’s cheating, I would have run one long ago.”
While Obama aides were peppered with questions from reporters about the timing of the WTO action and the political trip to Ohio, where an average of recent polls on realclearpolitics.com gives the president a 4 percent advantage, the Alliance for American Manufacturing applauded the trade complaint against China.
“President Obama is delivering a major boost to our nation’s automotive sector workers and businesses today by holding China accountable for its cheating,” AAM Executive Director Scott Paul said. “For the past eight months, we have built a compelling case on the merits of moving forward with a trade enforcement action on Chinese auto parts and automobiles. We commend the Obama administration for launching the case today.”