National Public Radio presidential debate

If you want to be here, then you're going to have to play like an adult here. If you're going to continue following policies that allow you to manipulate your currency, produce goods that you sell in our marketplace that do damage to our consumers — when we got word that they were sending toys over here with lead paint in them, cat food and toothpaste here, the president had the authority immediately to suspend importation. He wouldn't do it. Had that been a U.S. corporation doing that, their doors would have been shut in 20 minutes.

NORRIS: My colleague Steve has a question. But first, before we get there, I just want to follow up on something that Mr. Frommelt also said. He said he wants a president who's going to level the playing field.

Senator Obama, what would you do in order to give the U.S. more leverage, to be able to deal with China at least as an equal partner? And are you willing to do that despite the consequences, even if it means that consumers have to kiss those $300 televisions goodbye?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, look, I mean, I think Chris and Joe made a good point, which is, we have laws on the books now that aren't being enforced. This is what I mean in terms of us negotiating more effectively with them.

Part of the problem is, is that the relationship has shifted over time. Joe's absolutely right that they were much impoverished 10, 20 years ago, and so our general attitude was, you know what, whatever they send in, it doesn't really impact us that much, and they're a poor country.

NORRIS: But what would you do to level the playing field?

SEN. OBAMA: Things have now shifted. So, well, I'll just give you an example. I would say toys cannot come in. Food — we will have our own safety inspectors on the ground. Japan does this right now. They set up their own inspection standards in China, and they say, "Unless you meet our inspection standards, you cannot ship in here." If we don't have labor agreements and environmental agreements that are enforceable, then there are consequences in terms of them being able to import into this country.

The point is, is that we have a set of tools available to us that have not been used, and part of the reason is because when we talk about Chinese exports, oftentimes we are talking about U.S. companies that have moved to China, are manufacturing there and are trying to ship back here, and they still have influence, and those special interests have to be diminished in their voice in Washington.

NORRIS: Thank you, Senator.

Senator Edwards?

MR. EDWARDS: I want to expand on a point that Joe made and he mentioned, it was important, which is, what's happened is big corporate America is driving American policy with respect to China. They get their way, and the American people lose. This is only one place that that happens, by the way.

NORRIS: So what would you do to stand up to U.S. manufacturers?

MR. EDWARDS: There are a bunch of things we need to do. We have country-of-origin labeling laws. They've been in place for years, but we don't enforce them.

NORRIS: But we also know that China can easily get around that. They can sometimes use the "Made in Hong Kong" label instead of the "Made in China" label.

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