WASHINGTON — Commerce Secretary Donald Evans hit the road Wednesday to launch a pro-trade campaign that has drawn some criticism from labor groups.

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The trip comes at a time when House and Senate lawmakers are trying to reach a compromise on a trade bill, which is key to furthering President Bush’s trade agenda.

Evans held a town hall meeting in Kansas City, Mo., Wednesday to announce a nationwide “grassroots” initiative he said is aimed at educating the American people on the benefits of international trade to the U.S.

He also claimed that exports accounted for more than one-fifth of the nation’s economic growth during the last decade and cited data showing that trade supports 12 million U.S. jobs.

“The American public understands they are losing jobs because of trade,” said Patricia Campos, legislative director of UNITE, which is opposed to Trade Promotion Authority. “[The administration] decided it needed to go out there with the message that trade creates jobs.” The U.S. lost 1.2 million manufacturing jobs last year, she noted.

However, Julia Hughes, vice president of international trade at the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel, which supports expanded trade, said Evans’ trip is a positive move.

“It’s a great idea to go beyond the Beltway to meet with employees who may have anxieties and not understand the real benefits of trade.””

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