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President Obama Discusses China, Trade and Jobs With Democratic Senators

President Obama joined Democratic Senators at the Newseum today for the Senate Democratic Policy Committee Issues Conference. During the question and answer time, Senator Arlen Specter from Pennsylvania asked the President about relations with China, trade and creating more jobs through the increase of exports. Read the transcript below.

"SENATOR SPECTER: Mr. President, I begin by applauding your decision to place the economy at the top of the agenda, to put America back to work and provide jobs, jobs, jobs.

I have a two-part question, and just a brief statement of the issue. We have lost 2.3 million jobs as a result of the trade imbalance with China between 2001 and 2007. The remedies to save those jobs are very ineffective -- long delays, proceedings before the International Trade Commission, subject to being overruled by the President. We have China violating international law with subsidies and dumping -- really, a form of international banditry. They take our money and then they lend it back to us and own now a big part of the United States.

The first part of my question is, would you support more effective remedies to allow injured parties -- unions which lose jobs, companies which lose profits -- by endorsing a judicial remedy, if not in U.S. courts perhaps in an international court, and eliminate the aspect of having the ITC decisions overruled by the President -- done four times in 2003 to 2005, at a cost of a tremendous number of jobs on the basis of the national interest. And if we have an issue on the national interest, let the nation pay for it, as opposed to the steel industry or the United Steel Workers.

And the second part of the question, related, is when China got into the World Trade Organization, a matter that 15 of us in this body opposed, there were bilateral treaties. And China has not lived up to its obligations to have its markets open to us, but take our markets and take our jobs. Would you support an effort to revise, perhaps even revoke, those -- that bilateral treaty, which gives China such an unfair trade advantage? Thank you."

"THE PRESIDENT: Arlen, I would not be in favor of revoking the trade relationships that we've established with China. I have shown myself during the course of this year more than willing to enforce our trade agreements in a much more serious way. And at times I've been criticized for it. There was a case involving foreign tires that were being sent in here, and I said this was an example of where we've got to put our foot down and show that we're serious about enforcement. And it caused the usual fuss at the international level, but it was the right thing to do.

Having said that, I also believe that our future is going to be tied up with our ability to sell products all around the world, and China is going to be one of our biggest markets, and Asia is going to be one of our biggest markets. And for us to close ourselves off from that market would be a mistake.

The point you're making, Arlen, which is the right one, is it's got to be reciprocal. So if we have established agreements in which both sides are supposed to open up their markets, we do so and then the other side is imposing a whole set of non-tariff barriers in place, that's a problem. And it has to be squarely confronted.

So the approach that we're taking is to try to get much tougher about enforcement of existing rules, putting constant pressure on China and other countries to open up their markets in reciprocal ways.

One of the challenges that we've got to address internationally is currency rates and how they match up to make sure that our goods are not artificially inflated in price and their goods are artificially deflated in price. That puts us at a huge competitive disadvantage.

But what I don't want to do is for us as a country, or as a party, to shy away from the prospects of international competition, because I think we've got the best workers on Earth, we've got the most innovative products on Earth, and if we are able to compete on an even playing field, nobody can beat us. And by the way, that will create jobs here in the United States.

If we just increased our exports to Asia by a percentage point, by a fraction, it would mean hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of jobs here in the United States. And it's easily doable.

And that's why we are going to be putting a much bigger emphasis on export promotion over the next several years. And that includes, by the way, export promotion not just for large companies but also for medium-size and small companies, because one of the challenges -- I was up in New Hampshire yesterday, and you saw this terrific new company that had just been started up -- it's only got 13, 14 employees at this point. But it has a new manufacturing technique for the component parts in LED light bulbs, potentially could lower the price of LED light bulbs, cut them in half.

And these folks, they potentially could market not just here in the United States, but this is a technology that could end up being sent all around the world. But they don't have the money to set up their own foreign office in Beijing to navigate through the bureaucracy. They've got to have some help being over there. And so that's one of the things that we really want to focus on in this coming year, is making sure that our export-import banks, our trade offices, that we are assisting not just the big guys, although we do want to help them, but also the medium-sized and small businesses that have innovative products that could be marketed if they just got a little bit of help and a little bit of push from the United States government."