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(Post updated with excerpts from Romney’s remarks on free trade.)

I’m over in Redmond this afternoon to hear Mitt Romney, one of the leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, talk about trade and business issues to an audience assembled by Microsoft’s Political Action Committee. Romney started with a funny story about trying to hire Steve Ballmer, now Microsoft’s chief executive, before Ballmer joined Bill Gates and Paul Allen at Microsoft.

Romney greets Microsoft employees at the event.

Romney explained that this was when he was in charge of recruiting for consulting company Bain & Company back in the 1970s and 1980s. Meeting with Romney more recently, Ballmer reminded him of what happened back then.

“I said, ‘Had you joined us, you’d be worth a million or two by now.'” Romney said.

Romney’s speech, which is still ongoing, is focusing on issues of free trade, particularly with China, saying that the U.S. should be pushing harder for equitable trade practices, without fear of repercussion given the amount of goods Americans buy from China’s manufacturers.

Update, 4 p.m.: Romney also talked about topics close to the hearts of Microsoft, the issues of intellectual-property piracy, hacking and currency manipulation, saying that unfair trade practices in general by China and others have cost millions of American jobs.

“It’s critical for us to stop this practice before it spreads,” he said. “It’s bad enough that China is doing it, but if Brazil or Indonesia or India get the idea as well, the impact on industry and jobs here in this country would become more and more severe.”

So what would Romney do? “On Day 1 of my administration, I would designate China as a currency manipulator,” he said, noting that he hopes President Obama does it in the meantime. “I would apply countervailing duties on Chinese goods where they have stolen intellectual property or where their currency manipulation is killing American businesses and jobs unfairly.”

“I’m no longer going to sit back and allow the Chinese to take advantage of us as they have,” he said, adding that he would also institute reciprocal agreements for government purchases by the two countries.

Finally, Romney outlined his plans for the creation of a “Reagan Zone,” in honor of President Reagan, in which the U.S. would grant preferred trade status to nations that agree to intellectual property protection and non-manipulative currency practices.

He called legislation to crack down on China “political theater,” saying that the president already has this power. “We don’t need new legislation. We need a new president,” he said.

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