April 13th, 2012
02:23 PM ET
Tampa, Florida (CNN) – Touching down in the key campaign state of Florida for the second time this week, President Obama pledged to further promote trade with Latin America and unveiled a new federal program to aide small businesses exporting south of the border.
“In Latin America alone in the last decade, tens of millions of people have stepped into the middle class,” Obama said to a group of small business owners at the Port of Tampa. “That means they have more money to spend, we want them to spend more money on American-made goods. “
The quick visit to Tampa comes ahead of the president’s visit to Cartagena, Colombia later this evening, where he will attend the Summit of the Americas. The two-day gathering with leaders from the Western Hemisphere will specifically focus on economic and trade issues in Latin America.
While I am in Colombia talking to other leaders, I am going think about you,” the President told the group. “I want to sell our stuff and put Americans back to work.”
The summit also provides the president with a convenient opportunity to promote issues that his campaign no doubt hopes will resonate with certain Hispanic voters, specifically development in Central and South America and more federal assistance to businesses that have trading relationships with countries there.
Meanwhile, the White House has billed the president’s trip to Tampa as a purely official event, though with the general election’s unofficial kick off earlier this week, no trip to Florida is without political overtones.
“I’ve been talking a lot about the fundamental choice facing America,” the president said at one point, in language that closely resembles that he has used at campaign events. “We should build an economy where everyone is playing by the same set of rules.”
Still, the president didn’t note his reelection effort explicitly in the 15-minute speech. Instead, he promoted the virtues of free trade within the Western Hemisphere while announcing a new program the White House is calling the Small Business Network of the Americas. Specifically, Obama said the new program would help businesses get financing and counseling on how to access new markets south of the border.
“This initiative is going to help our small business. Latino-owned businesses,” he said. “Women-owned businesses. African-American owned businesses.”
The president also touted his record on trade issues generally, referencing agreements signed by Congress last year with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea.
“Soon there are going to be millions of customers for American goods in South Korea, Colombia, and Panama,” he said.
Republicans though were quick to hit back, noting the president’s record on free trade has been inconsistent.
“We are glad that President Obama has come around to see the foolishness of opposing free trade as he did as senator and presidential candidate,” said Jonathan Collegio, communications director for the GOP Super Pac American Crossroads.