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Romney talks trade and China in Ohio

PATASKALA, OH – GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney today brought his economy-focused campaign to a massive factory floor here in Central Ohio, promising he would fight to help manufacturing thrive in an era of free trade.

“The truth is trade is good for those economies that are productive, and efficient and our economy and our workers are the most productive in the world -- so trade ought to be good for us,” he told an audience of roughly 100 workers and supporters.

"If other people follow the trade agreements and compete at a fare basis, we ought to be able to sell this product all over the world and put more and more people to work right here in central Ohio because this is the best product in the world.”

Romney made these remarks after a tour of Screen Machines Industries, a manufacturer of portable crushing and screening plants. (Democrats noted that the company received hundreds of thousands of dollars in stimulus funds.)

Strikingly, Romney did not criticize President Obama as aggressively as he has done in other recent campaign appearances. Instead, he saved his harshest words for Chinese businesses, which he called the world’s “worst offenders” when it comes to following free trade rules.

“For too long we've let China cheat,” he said of Chinese businesses that flout American intellectual property rights. “We’ve got to get serious about recognizing that. We will crack down on cheaters like China and protect the intellectual property and the jobs of American workers, and American enterprises. And I will do that when I am president.” *** CORRECTION *** Romney said, "And I will do that if I am president."

After the speech, Romney greeted supporters and told a group of reporters he would not comment on the daily back-and-forth debt negotiations currently gripping Washington, but that he continued to favor a “cut, cap and balance” approach to solving the crisis. Romney so far has refused to either endorse or oppose House Speaker John Boehner’s debt-ceiling legislation.

The former Massachusetts governor and CEO looked relaxed in shirtsleeves, and spoke without notes. He departed from his jobs and trade message only briefly, getting applause for remarking that the government should not spend more than it takes in.

And he received a few laughs for lamenting that he was introduced to the Ohio State University fight song.

“I didn’t expect to hear ‘Hail to the Victors, valiant. I know that,” the Michigan native joked. “This is Woody Hayes country.”