The Corner

Obama Thinks Ex-Im Supports Free Trade

President Obama thinks that the tea-party opposition to the Export-Import Bank contradicts the conservatives’ traditional support for free trade.

“There is no doubt that a thread has emerged in the Republican Party of anti-globalisation that runs contrary to the party’s traditional support for free trade,” Obama told The Economist in an interview published Saturday.  “How the Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) became targets for Tea Party wrath is a little strange to me. But I do think there remains a consensus within the American business community that ultimately we benefit from trade. I am confident that we can get AGOA reauthorised and refined, given the lessons learned from the first round of AGOA. And the truth is that the amount of trade between the United States and Africa is so small relative to our overall economy that in no way should it be perceived as a threat.”

Obama equates globalization with free trade; conversely, he regards opposition to Ex-Im as protectionist. It’s as if he thinks that the North American Free Trade Agreement only includes the words “free trade” because it also mentions North America, i.e., multiple countries. 

The president doesn’t seem to understand that it’s “free” because the government isn’t interfering with it. Or maybe he thinks that it’s “free” because the government is helping the business make a deal, rather than imposing a rule that explicitly impedes trade. (In short, he thinks that being pro-business is the same as being pro-free-market — something he rarely states so explicitly, given his preference for accusing Republicans of trying to “rig the system for those at the top.”)

The paradox of Obama’s position is made even more explicit in question posed by The Economist interlocutor, who seems to think that China can do a better job of engaging in free trade — so much so, that it ends in a joke about how nice it would be if Obama were a dictator:

The Economist: The other advantage the Chinese have is they don’t have Congress. Well, they have a congress but it’s somehow more compliant, to use your word this morning. We could both agree that one of the great things would be to have more free trade in Africa if you could push people. But you face the danger that Congress may give up on the Export-Import Bank and may also get in the way of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). These could frustrate your policy.

Mr Obama: There’s no doubt that—

The Economist: You’d rather be a dictator. (Laughter.)

Mr Obama: Let’s just make sure that we note that that was not my quote. (Laughter.)

What the Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney suggested for Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012 is still true: “Instead of merely attacking Obama for redistributing wealth, [Republicans] could point out that Obama often redistributes it upward, to the drug companies with their double-digit profit margins and to the likes of Boeing and General Electric. A Republican who believes in free enterprise has a great opportunity, thanks to Obama’s corporatism.”

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