Obama Campaign Denies Duplicity On Trade

Canadian government memo appears to contradict Obama on NAFTA conversation.

ByABC News
March 3, 2008, 4:09 PM

March 3, 2008 — -- Sen. Barack Obama acknowledged Monday that senior economic adviser Austan Goolsbee had spoken to a Canadian government official about the Democratic presidential frontrunner's position on NAFTA.

However Obama disputed a Canadian government memo that suggested Goolsbee told the Canadian government his anti-NAFTA rhetoric "should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans."

"Nobody reached out to the Canadians to try to reassure them," Obama said today in Texas.

"Unbeknownst to the rest of us, they reached out to Mr. Goolsbee who provided them with a tangible conversation and repeated what we've said on the campaign trail. Which is that we believe in trade with Canada. We believe in trade with Mexico," he said, but, "we think the terms of NAFTA have to be altered so that the labor standards and the environmental standards are enforceable."

The Obama campaign's acknowledgement of the meeting came after the Associated Press initially obtained a Canadian government memo, written by Joseph DeMora of the Canadian consulate in Chicago to the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., about a meeting between Goolsbee and Georges Rioux, the Canadian consul general in Chicago.

"Noting anxiety among many U.S. domestic audiences about the U.S. economic outlook, Goolsbee candidly acknowledged the protectionist sentiment that has emerged, particularly in the Midwest, during the primary campaign," read the Canadian government memo first obtained by the AP and later obtained by Canada's Canwest News Service.

"[Goolsbee] cautioned that this messaging should not be taken out of context and should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans he mentioned that going forward the Obama camp was going to be careful to send the appropriate message without coming off as too protectionist," the Canadian government memo read.

The Obama campaign acknowledged the meeting but continued to deny that there was any inconsistency between Goolsbee's private comments and Obama's public position.

"A couple of different issues came up including trade and tax shelters and things like that," Obama spokesman Bill Burton told ABC News. "As we've said and as the Canadian Embassy has agreed, nothing about what was said or discussed was in contravention of Obama's public and consistent position."

Initial stories by CTV suggested a senior Obama campaign official telephoned Michael Wilson, Canada's ambassador to the United States, to reassure him that campaign rhetoric against NAFTA should not be taken seriously.

Later reports clarified the communication was a conversation between Austan Goolsbee and the Canadian consul general, Georges Rioux.