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Originally published Thursday, April 3, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Editorial

Democrats should come clean on trade

The Democratic presidential candidates, instead of bashing international trade, should be touting its contribution to shoring up a souring economy.

The Democratic presidential candidates, instead of bashing international trade, should be touting its contribution to shoring up a souring economy.

In 2007, exports rose 12 percent to a record $1.6 trillion in goods and services, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. That growth accounted for more than one-quarter of the increase in the gross domestic product.Exports are one of the few bright spots in an economy that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke acknowledges appears to be heading into recession. And the relative strength of Washington state's economy — where one in every three jobs is trade-related — is testimony to the benefits of trade.

But that point is all but ignored in Sen. Barack Obama's remarks prepared for an AFL-CIO meeting Wednesday in Philadelphia.

"Now, if we're honest with ourselves, we'll acknowledge that we can't stop globalization in its tracks and that opening new markets to our goods can help strengthen our economy," Obama's speech reads.

Would he want to? Really? Stop it in its tracks?

Obama goes on to promise the union members he'll vote against the pending trade agreements with South Korea and Colombia, and he'll oppose permanent normal trade relations with China.

How would that affect Washington state? Gov. Christine Gregoire signed the first and so-far only trade agreement between a state and China last year. She's also a superdelegate who endorsed Obama.

This page has endorsed Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination with conviction he would be an excellent candidate for president, but he must state that he will not backtrack on trade.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, who supported the North American Free Trade Agreement during her husband's presidency, suggests it be renegotiated. What if Canada and Mexico say no to renegotiation? Washington's two U.S. senators, who have endorsed Clinton, should be bending her ear.

Funny, but the candidates hit the anti-trade mute button when they travel into states like California, Washington and Texas.

Business leaders and elected officials here discount the campaign rhetoric as just that — a means to get elected but not a sign of new policies that will foreclose expanded trade. We hope they are right.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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