"We have to stop providing tax breaks for companies that are shipping jobs overseas and give those tax breaks to companies that are investing here in the United Statpes of America," Obama said in during a debate with rival Senator Hillary Clinton in Ohio, Cleaveland.
The Illinois Senator, playing to the gallery of those workers who have been displaced in manufacturing jobs as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and generally to the anti-outsourcing crowd, said he would ensure that every pact the US signs has environmental, safety and labour standards to protect workers and consumers alike.
"We can't have toys with lead paint in them that our children are playing with. We can't have medicines that are actually making people more sick instead of better because they're produced overseas," Obama said.
At the same time, he said, Americans cannot "shy away" from globalisation. "We can't draw a moat around us." "The problem is we've been negotiating just looking at corporate profits and what's good for multinationals," the African-American Senator said adding, "as President, what I want to be is an advocate on behalf of workers".
Facing the heat from US presidential hopefuls who blamed "shipping jobs" to China and India for rising US unemployment, the India Inc had last week launched a counter-offensive here through the media, telling Americans that the industry is creating new work opportunities for them.
Obama and Clinton were at a 90-minute debate in Cleveland a week ahead of a critical group of primaries -- an event that was devoid of any major fireworks but a mere reiteration of stated positions on issues as universal health care and Iraq.
Speaking about NAFTA, the trade pact with Canada and Mexico that is seen as unpopular with the workers, Obama said Clinton's views on the issue were not consistent.
"I think that it is inaccurate for Senator Clinton to say that she's always opposed NAFTA. In her campaign for Senate, she said that NAFTA, on balance, had been good for New York and good for America. I disagree with that...Now, I think that Senator Clinton has shifted positions on this." Clinton, on her part, said "I have said I would renegotiate NAFTA...I will say to Mexico that we will opt out of NAFTA unless we renegotiate it."
On the Iraq war, both the Democrats slammed President George W Bush's record and restated long-held disagreements over which of them was more opposed to the invasion.
Clinton also said as far as she knew her campaign had nothing to do with circulating a photograph of Obama wearing a white turban and a robe during a 2006 visit to Kenya which appeared on the internet.
"We have no evidence where it came from," Clinton maintained.
"I take Senator Clinton at her word that she knew nothing about the photo," Obama said.