Obama and McCain on Trade and Tech

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In September I wrote about Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's remarks at the Democratic National Convention, during which he said that "companies that ship jobs overseas will not get tax breaks." At the time, executives of Indian outsourcing companies downplayed the comment.


As the United States prepares to vote Tuesday with Obama the perceived front-runner, The Economic Times is attributing a drop in stock prices of companies such as Infosys, Satyam and HCL Technologies to concerns about the possibility of Obama being elected. That's not the only factor, of course. The article mentions broader economic conditions, including a volatile rupee. The stock of some outsourcing specialists, including Wipro and Tata Consultancy Services, rose Monday.


Despite such stock fluctuations, a group of Indian workers calling themselves the Barack Obama Bangalore Fan Club has been trying to drum up support for the Democrat both in India and among friends and relatives in the United States, according to another Economic Times story. The club's president says "Obama is for change and so are we," and adds that Obama's views toward India are "quite pragmatic." The club has collected about $4,000 to contribute to Obama's campaign.


Trade policy in Asia is one of the most significant differences between Obama and Republican candidate John McCain, reports Reuters. McCain supports a bilateral trade agreement with South Korea, while Obama wants the South Koreans to offer U.S. automakers greater market access. Both South Korea and Japan, another U.S. ally, have expressed dismay at America's concessions to North Korea in recent nuclear negotiations.


The two candidates also exchanged a few strong words on trade, specifically a proposed free-trade agreement with Colombia, during one of the debates last month. Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador have received duty-free treatment for most of their exports to the United States under a program that dates back to 1991 to create jobs outside the region's huge illegal drug trade. Congress approved a trade deal with Peru last year locking in those benefits, but has not yet done so for the other countries.


McCain called an agreement with Colombia a "no-brainer" and urged Obama to visit the country so he could "understand it a lot better." Obama responded that he couldn't support an agreement when labor leaders in Colombia were being targeted for assassination. While insisting that he was an advocate of free trade, Obama noted that some controls were appropriate. He said:

... I also believe that for far too long, certainly during the course of the Bush administration with the support of Sen. McCain, the attitude has been that any trade agreement is a good trade agreement.

Though it isn't exactly a trade issue, the push for more H-1B visas to allow foreign workers to work in the United States certainly relates to the broader issue of globalization. Both candidates support an increase in the visas, according to a ZDNet article that reviews their stances on five tech-related issues. But, as with broader trades issues, Obama seems more ambivalent than McCain, stressing that such an increase would be "temporary" and "a stopgap measure" until Congress is ready to tackle more comprehensive immigration reform.


The article's author, Jason Hiner, gives McCain the nod for being more pro-tech on the issues of H-1B and R&D tax credits, while Obama is stronger on Net neutrality and green technology. While he doesn't think either man has all the right answers for promoting broader broadband access, he concludes that Obama edges out McCain on this issue. He also likes Obama for, among other things, his commitment to appointing the nation's first chief technology officer.


Hiner includes links to both candidates' official tech platforms and to several articles offering further assessments of how tech issues might fare under their administrations.