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Obama Gets Tough On China's Auto Subsidies


And in this campaign, Mitt Romney has offered a full-throated criticism of President Obama's stance on trade with China, accusing the president of not being tough enough. Yesterday, the White House announced a new trade complaint against what it calls China's unfair subsidies for auto parts. It came just as the president was campaigning in Ohio, where auto parts are big business. Here's NPR's Scott Horsley.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: The leader of the United Auto Workers issued a formal statement yesterday applauding the president's decision to bring a trade case against China. Mr. Obama also got a more personal thank you from UAW member Jeff Gace in Columbus, Ohio.

JEFF GACE: I was born and raised in central Ohio, and today I help lead the same local my late father helped found.

HORSLEY: Gace works at a company in Delaware, Ohio that makes paint for the auto industry. His company is hiring these days, and Gace credits the president's decision early on in his administration to rescue Chrysler and General Motors.

GACE: Because he did, the plant I work at is running full steam ahead, six to seven days a week.


HORSLEY: The auto industry is a major employer in Ohio, tied directly or indirectly to one out of eight jobs in the state. That includes more than 54,000 employees in the auto parts business. Yesterday, the Obama administration announced an effort to protect those jobs from what it calls unfair competition from China. The president told supports in Columbus he's filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization over Chinese export subsidies that put U.S. parts makers at a competitive disadvantage.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It's not right, it's against the rules, we're not going to let it stand. American workers build better products than anybody. Made in America means something, and when the playing field is level, we always win.

HORSLEY: It's the second time in just over two months that Mr. Obama has announced a trade enforcement action while campaigning in Ohio. This summer he filed another complaint with the WTO, accusing China of slapping illegal tariffs on cars and trucks imported from the U.S.

OBAMA: We've brought more trade cases against China in one term than the previous administration did in two.

HORSLEY: Getting tough on trade with China is often a popular theme for politicians, especially in the industrial Midwest. Lately, Mitt Romney has been taking the president to task for not being tough enough. A Romney TV commercial says the president's trade policy has failed American workers. Romney calls this week's WTO case too little, too late.

MITT ROMNEY: The president may think that announcing new trade lawsuits less than two months before the election will distract from his record, but American businesses and workers struggling in an uneven playing field know better. If I'd known that all it took to get him to take action was to run an ad citing his inaction on China's cheating, I'd have run one a long time ago.

HORSLEY: But the White House insists Mr. Obama is no Johnny-come-lately on trade enforcement. Back in 2009, he challenged China over a flood of cheap tire imports. Romney criticized that case in his book "No Apology," calling it a protectionist move to help a friendly labor union. Mr. Obama notes since that case was filed, the domestic tire industry has enjoyed a modest rebound, adding about 1,000 jobs.

OBAMA: But you can't just talk the talk, you've got to walk the walk.


OBAMA: I wake up every single day thinking about America's workers and making sure they've got a fair shot in this economy.

HORSLEY: Ohio's economy is doing better than most, with an unemployment rate nearly a full point below the national average. Scott Horsley, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.

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