DES MOINES, Iowa – Republican Mitt Romney says Washington must act to open more foreign markets to American products, and he wants the president to have new authority to negotiate such agreements.
The Republican presidential candidate proposes what he calls a "Reagan Zone of Economic Freedom" that would include U.S. free-trade partners such as Europe who commit to opening up markets and "playing by the rules." Such an alliance could operate inside and outside the World Trade Organization to push for trade agreements as well as labor, environmental and other reforms.
"Governor Romney would seek to expand these efforts to include the European Union and other nations that agree to meet these standards, while challenging China and others advancing agreements that exclude America," the plan says.
The agenda items are part of Romney's proposal for free trade, which he was expected to discuss during campaign stops in northern Iowa on Thursday. A copy of the plan was provided to The Associated Press.
In it, Romney, who amassed a vast personal fortune as a venture capitalist, says a president who is going to expand the economy through new trade agreements needs his kind of experience. He also calls on Americans to "reject the Democrats' policies of retreat from the world."
"Denying America the ability to negotiate to open markets while our competitors gain advantages is no strategy," the proposal says.
Many of the Democrats who control Congress and their labor and environmental allies are leery of free-trade deals, saying they lead to jobs being moved overseas and to the exploitation of foreign workers and the environment.
Earlier this year, Congress stripped President Bush of trade promotion authority, which allows presidents to negotiate "fast track" trade agreements without intervention from Congress. Since 1975, only one other president, Bill Clinton, has been stripped of that authority, which was designed to speed the reduction of trade barriers and open new markets with other counties. Bush won't get it back, and the next president might not, either.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, says the president should have the trade promotion authority because the U.S. cannot afford to be cut out of any more deals. He says the U.S. is excluded from more than 300 trade agreements globally.
Rather than promoting new free trade accords, some lawmakers want the government to concentrate on rewriting old deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, going after countries such as China that manipulate their currencies, strengthening product safety and pushing anti-sweatshop legislation.
Some of Romney's proposals were laid out in terms of how they would affect Iowa, a farm state that traditionally launches the presidential nominating season.
Romney calls for a conclusion to the Doha Round of global trade negotiations, which were launched in 2001 to make trading conditions fairer in order to help lift developing countries out of poverty.
The Doha talks have stalled largely over farm subsidies, with poorer countries insisting on bigger cuts in subsidy payments that go to American and European farmers, and with the U.S. and the EU at a stalemate over those subsidies.
"The Doha Round and free-trade agreements can be huge opportunities for Iowa if we ensure no unilateral disarmament on agriculture and demand that they provide strong benefits for farmers and companies across Iowa," Romney's policy says.
The proposal says existing trade agreements must be enforced if states such as Iowa are going to do well in the global economy.
Romney wants U.S. leaders and those in other countries to help end currency manipulation in China and other countries, and to protect intellectual property rights. He also touches on improving standards for the safety of food and products entering the United States.