Consumer electronics bus tour to push free-trade agenda in US

Consumer-electronic companies aim to use a bus tour to influence the US presidential campaigns and persuade worried US voters that trade is good for them.

“My summer vacation is in a bus,” said Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Association, whose 2,200 members include Apple, Sony, Intel, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft.

The seven-week bus tour kicks off today (21 July) in New York and includes stops in late August at the Democratic national convention in Denver and in early September at the Republican national convention in Minneapolis.

The group, which says its sector will contribute $1.4tr to US economic activity this year, is also launching a website aimed at persuading skeptics that trade is positive for US jobs and the economy.

The effort is motivated by polls showing many Americans believe trade is bad for the US and by the hard time business groups and the Bush administration have had in persuading the Democratic-run Congress to approve free trade pacts with Colombia, South Korea and Panama.

“Frankly, it’s baffling to those of us in the business world. We think it is absolutely critical that we as nation continue to embrace free trade. It gives us access to the best technology in the world,” Shapiro said, adding he would share bus-riding duty with other CEA officials.

After speeches on Monday by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Canadian and Colombian officials and consumer electronic business leaders, the bus heads to Washington, down the East Coast to Florida, across the South and up the West Coast before darting down to Denver.

The last two weeks of the 34-state tour take the bus from Kansas City to Minneapolis to Chicago and further south again.

The “America Wins With Trade” bus resembles Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s own “Straight Talk Express” and Shapiro admits to having concerns about Democratic candidate Barack Obama’s stated intention to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“That concerns us greatly. He also does not support the Colombia free trade agreement ... After the Democratic primary he’s veered a little bit toward the middle again, but it is important what the next president will do,” Shapiro added.

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