- - Tuesday, September 18, 2012

As the 2012 election draws near, many women don’t have much time to study the policy details of the two candidates. They are either running around with the kids or running around at work — and often trying to do both at the same time.

So when women want to learn what Barack Obama and Mitt Romney think about an issue like international trade, they appreciate having the ability to one-stop-shop on the candidates’ campaign websites. Yet only one of these two candidates devotes an entire page of his website to trade.

This is a welcome breath of fresh air — a taste of substance in a race that often seems to lack it. Democrats have spent months touting the weary line that Republicans are engaged in a “war on women.” Gaffes from politicians like Missouri senatorial candidate W. Todd Akin only add fuel to their fire. Yet women care about a lot more than access to birth control and abortions. In fact, for most of us, those things are at the bottom of our current priority list. It’s time to focus on the issues that most women actually care about: jobs and the economy.

President Obama has a record to run on — and there’s plenty to boast about. He signed free-trade agreements last year with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. His administration is in the process of negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would create a huge trade zone that would include the United States and at least eight other countries. The latest round of TPP talks concluded last week in Virginia.


Yet Mr. Obama’s campaign website is virtually silent on free trade. There’s a single mention of the three trade agreements, but it’s buried at the bottom of a page and easy to miss. Beyond that and a reference to increased exports by 2015, there’s nothing — no high-flying rhetoric, no policy objectives and no specific promises about what he would deliver in a second term.

In sharp contrast, Mr. Romney’s website has a whole page devoted to free trade, with slogans, subsections, bullet points and more. “Open markets have helped make America powerful and prosperous,” Mr. Romney’s trade page says. “Indeed, they have been one of the keys to our economic success since the country was founded.” The website goes on to list goals, such as reinstating trade promotion authority for the president, finishing the TPP negotiations, pursuing new trade agreements with other countries and building what Mr. Romney calls the “Reagan Economic Zone,” in which nations committed to open markets would reduce trade barriers for mutual benefit.

There’s even more. One item that’s not on his website but that his advisers have talked up more recently is the creation of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, a trade zone in the Western Hemisphere. This ambitious goal went unrealized during the George W. Bush years because of opposition from Argentina, Brazil and several other countries. It may yet be difficult to negotiate, but it’s good to see that Mr. Romney considers it worth the effort.

As a rancher who produces beef, I have firsthand knowledge of the advantages of free trade. We sell to American customers, but much of our market lies overseas. “Approximately 95 percent of the world’s consumers live beyond our borders, and selling our world-class products and services to them is the next great frontier for economic growth,” Mr. Romney’s website says. “The fewer the barriers to cross-border commerce, the more economic growth we enjoy and the greater the number of American jobs brought into being.”

Women are fed up with politicians and pundits who want to lecture them about so-called women’s issues. Right now, no issues are more important to women than jobs and the economy — and only one candidate has much of anything to say about reviving them through global trade.

Helen Reddy sings, “I am woman, hear me roar.” Right now, when it comes to roaring, women would rather let the U.S. economy make all the noise — thank goodness Mitt Romney understands that free trade turns up the volume.

Carol Keiser owns and operates cattle-feeding operations in the Midwest and is a Truth About Trade & Technology board member.