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Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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November 19, 2007 1:10 PM

Romney talks trade, immigration during visit

Posted by David Postman

Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney came to Seattle this morning and brought up something we haven't heard much about in this campaign: Trade. He said his strong support for free trade distinguishes him from Democratic candidates for president, but also said he would push beyond what President Bush has been able to accomplish in lowering barriers for U.S. commerce. And if the WTO stymies the United States, Romney said he would negotiate separately with countries for what he envisions as a "Reagan Zone of Economic Freedom."

Romney met the press this morning at a private air terminal at Sea-Tac. He began with a statement about trade He pointed out that some Congressional Democrats has been reluctant to expand free trade.

"In my view this is a time when America should be opening markets for our goods -- making sure the agreements constitute a level playing field -- but don't' close down America. Don't put up walls around America. People here in Washington respect and understand that a lot of our jobs are associated with selling goods and services around the world. And I'll make sure that continues to be the case."

That was the sort of rhetoric that many presidential candidates used to talk about when visiting Washington. But as Sen. Patty Murray said this summer, it's getting harder for even the most parochial supporters of trade to be as enthusiastic as they once were.

Romney has been talking about trade this month on the campaign trail. He also touched on the issue early this year in a February speech to the Detroit Economic Club

Romney said this morning he supports every pending trade agreement. He says the president should be given fast-track authority to negotiate more agreements. He said that agreements should be strengthened to include better protection for U.S. intellectual property rights and to stop currency manipulation by China.

It's a push for stronger environmental and labor standards, though, that has made trade a hard sell in the Democratic Congress. Romney said there's no question both issues have to be considered, particularly to try to stop child labor and other practices "that are antithetical to our values." But he sounded reluctant to let less stark differences on the environment or labor hobble a trade agreement.

"Those are part of the mix that you obviously consider in an agreement. But one of the key things in agreements with foreign nations is whether the trade will be advantageous for us or not. And trade generally is."

Also on trade, Romney said he supports federal money for job retraining. But he said he didn't want that money going to government. He said it'd be better to give it to employees looking to further their training or to employers who could pay tuition costs for workers.

There were also several questions about immigration, which Romney has been emphasizing in recent days. He was asked about Rudy Giuliani's defense how as mayor he ran New York City as a sanctuary for illegal immigrants. Romney said:

"A sanctuary city policy draws more illegal immigrants into the country. It's wrong."

He said he considers drivers licenses or tuition aide for illegal immigrants to stem from the same sort of perspective.

"This sanctuary state of mind is not necessary to preserve the law."

He said that as president he would work to cut federal funds to cities that don't enforce immigration laws, as he argues New York did under Giuliani, and would cut federal highway dollars to states that give driver licenses to illegal immigrants and cut education money for any state that gives them tuition assistance.

Romney spent about 30 minutes answering press questions. He left for Microsoft where he will meet with employees and then on to an evening fundraiser at the home of wireless entrepreneur Wayne Perry.

ALSO: If you want to watch a video of Romney's media availability, the Times' Hilary Buckley was there with a camera and posted here.

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