- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 9, 2004

President Bush said yesterday that some “economic isolationists” want to separate the United States from competition with the rest of the world, a move he called disastrous for the nation’s economy.

In a speech at a Commerce Department awards ceremony, the president said trade is key to expanding the U.S. market and continuing to grow the economy.

“As our economy moves forward and new jobs are added, some are questioning whether American companies and American workers are up to the challenge of foreign competition,” Mr. Bush said.

“If we are to continue growing this economy and creating new jobs, America must remain confident and strong about our ability to trade in the world.”

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has voted at least 16 times in favor of free trade.

He also supported the North American Free Trade Agreement — saying in 1993 that “NAFTA recognizes the reality of today’s economy — globalization and technology” — but since has changed his mind.

Courting labor groups who oppose NAFTA and other free-trade agreements, Mr. Kerry said after he became a candidate last year, “If it were before me today, I would vote against it because it doesn’t have environmental or labor standards in it.”

More recently, Mr. Kerry said if elected, he immediately would put all trade deals on hold and conduct a 120-day review. He also advocates adding labor and environmental standards to new pacts and would require companies to give notice before sending jobs overseas.

But Mr. Bush contends that expanding global trade strengthens the economy.

“By selling good ideas and good products in markets not only here, but across the world, we’re creating jobs — good, high-paying jobs for the American citizen,” he said. “We have innovative, dynamic companies, which are producing world-class products and services. America’s best companies are emphasizing quality and service, and developing world-class methods for production.”

Mr. Kerry has criticized the president for slow job growth, and yesterday his campaign said Mr. Bush deserves to win the “Herbert Hoover Award” for presiding over the worst record on jobs of any president in American history.

“The American people need to know that their president has failed to lead on jobs and that John Kerry is running for president to change the direction of this economy and get people back to work,” said Kerry campaign chairwoman and former New Hampshire Gov. Jean Shaheen.

Steve Schmidt, Bush campaign spokesman, responded: “John Kerry is relying on gimmicks to conceal his backward policies of higher taxes, more regulation, higher health care costs and higher energy costs.

“Kerry should be awarding himself the Mondale Award as the second presidential candidate in modern times to push an antigrowth economic program of raising taxes.”

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