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Republicans bash Obama over trade agreements in advance of visit

Posted Apr 13, 2012 by William March

Updated Apr 13, 2012 at 12:42 PM

In advance of President Barack Obama’s speech at the Port of Tampa today, Republicans accused him of stalling trade agreements that took effect last year with Colombia and Panama.

The Romney campaign released a statement from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and put U.S. Reps. Dennis Ross of Lakeland and Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami and incoming state House speaker Will Weatherford of Lutz on a conference call with reporters to make their point.

“President Obama’s recent decision to focus on trade – a vital component of Florida’s economy – comes three years too late,” said the statement from Bush. He said Obama “bowed to political pressure from powerful labor unions to stall these agreements,” and “missed several opportunities early in his administration to secure quick passage of trade agreements with Colombia and Panama which together will create thousands of jobs here in Florida.”

Bush said the U.S. lost $1 billion in agricultural exports to Colombia as result.

The widely reported, years-long history of the controversy over the free trade acts, however, is a bit more complicated than that.

The Colombia and Panama pacts were delayed for several years by democrats citing concerns about lack of environmental regulation and worker protection in those nations, murders of union leaders and concerns they would cost U.S. jobs. But after expressing those concerns during his campaign, Obama began backing the pacts early in his administration, siding with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others and over the objections of unions.

They were later delayed by disagreements between the Obama administration and congressional Republicans, who objected to a domestic job retraining program Obama wanted to set up to help any workers displaced as result of the pacts.

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