(Business Intelligence Brief) For the past two years there has been something of a mystery as far as the president is concerned. Is President Barack Obama anti-business, or does he think that business concerns are invalid? Is the President a free-trade advocate or a protectionist? Is the United States interested in pursuing some kind of trade policy that engages with the rest of the world or not? The biggest mystery is whether the hostility towards trade and global business was really something that reflected the beliefs of Barack Obama or the Democrats in Congress.
Looking at Obama as senator, one would see a pattern of votes that suggested that he was more trade advocate than not and, in the campaign, he was less antagonistic regarding the issue of trade expansion until he elected to contest Hilary Clinton on the subject. Meanwhile, the focus of the Democrats as a whole has been virulently protectionist with some exceptions in states that relied more heavily on the export community.
The ten day Asian trip may signal one of two things. This may either be the emergence of a new Obama - free from having to mollify a hostile Democratic party, or it may simply be an example of saying what the audience comes to hear without meaning to do much to advance the U.S. trade position. The reaction to Obama at the G-20 meetings was as close to an outright snub as any U.S. leader has received in years. Even an unpopular President George W. Bush never got the brush-off that Obama was subjected to. Much of this was anger at the US position on its currency but some was frustration with the lack of a framework on trade after two years of waiting for the Obama plan to develop.
Analysis: The G-20 meeting was humiliating, and the foreign press has been unmerciful. Many analysts in Europe had been hoping to see a radical shift from the Bush years, and and many are betraying their own naiveté as they express shock at the U.S. positions. The fact is that Obama reflects U.S. interests - Bush did and so does Obama. That these interests are not the same as those of other nations should come as no shock. The Europeans are mad at the United States for policies that weaken the dollar (such as last week's quantative easing effort outlined by the Federal Reserve last week) as it makes their export sector less effective. In the past, the shoe was on the other foot, and the United States thundered at the weak Euro.
What should the Obama do now? The simple answer is that the president needs to remember he is also "Salesman in Chief" and must champion the nation in trade - both directions. For two years this has not been the role that Obama has played but, at this last meeting, he seemed to get engaged despite the hostility. An engaged president is vital in the trade arena, and it is good to see Obama taking on such a role -- especially given the anger that was being directed his way.
--Chris Kuehl, of Armada Corporate Intelligence, is NACM's economic advisor