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The 2008 Democratic Candidates on Free Trade Agreements

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The 2008 Democratic Candidates on Free Trade Agreements

Symbol of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)

The Democratic party is sharply divided on the issue of free trade agreements, as reflected by the November 8, 2007 House vote on a free trade agreement with Peru: the bill passed by a vote of 285-132, but House Democrats split 109-116 on the pact.

See Pros & Cons of Free trade Agreements for a quick-reading summary of both sides of this issue.

The Peru legislation was the first free trade pact passed since Democrats took majority control of Congress in January 2007.

Free Trade Benefits vs. Costs
The crux of the conflict pits the benefits of free trade against its costs. Supporters believe that free trade increases sales/profits for U.S. businesses, thus strenghtening the U.S. economy. Opponents contend that free trade has caused the loss of millions of American jobs, and that such trade has degraded the environment and exploited workers in foreign countries.

The following is a brief summary of the top candidates' stances on U.S. free trade.

HILLARY CLINTON (See Clinton in 2008 News & Info Hub)
Hillary Clinton's husband and top political advisor, former President Bill Clinton, was a chief architect and promoter of the controversial North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was signed into law with much fanfare by Mr. Clinton on September 14, 1993.

Critics contend that NAFTA caused the loss of a million U.S. jobs outsourced to non-industrialized countries, and hasn't delivered on the promises of widespread prosperity.

Both Clintons are active leaders of the Democratic Leadership Council, a pro-corporate interests, centrist Democratic organization that fully supports U.S. free trade arrangements.

In 2007 , however, Sen. Clinton has expressed interest for a few changes to U.S. trade pacts. Commented the senator during a June 2007 debate, "We have to do several things: end the tax breaks that still exist in the tax code for outsourcing jobs, have trade agreements with enforceable labor and environmental standards... "

Sen. Clinton has voted YES for all free trade agreements presented during her tenure in Congress, except for the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) in 2005.

Sen. Clinton voted to extend "most favored nation trade status" to China despite the country's record of substantial human rights violations.

Summary for Hillary Clinton on Free Trade

  • Is she generally a supporter of U.S. free trade: YES
  • Does she actively push for major modifications to U.S. free trade arrangements? NO
BARACK OBAMA (See Obama in 2008 News & Info Hub)
About NAFTA, Sen. Obama said in a Democratic primary forum in 2007: "I would immediately call the president of Mexico, the president of Canada to try to amend NAFTA because I think that we can get labor agreements in that agreement right now. And it should reflect the basic principle that our trade agreements should not just be good for Wall Street, it should also be good for Main Street."

About free trade, Sen. Obama said at the same 2007 forum: "... people don't want a cheaper T-shirt if they're losing a job in the process. They would rather have the job and pay a little bit more for a T-shirt. And I think that's something that all Americans could agree to.

"But this raises a larger point, which is: globalization is here. And we should be trading around the world. We don't want to just be standing still while the rest of the world is out there taking the steps that it needs to in order to expand trade."

On granting to China "most favored nation trade status", Sen. Obama stated in 2004:

"The U.S. should be firm on issues that divide us [from the Beijing government... while flexible on issues that could unite us. We should insist on labor standards and human rights, the opening of Chinese markets fully to American goods, and the fulfillment of legal contracts with American businesses - but without triggering a trade war, as prolonged instability in the Chinese economy could have global economic consequences."

Sen. Obama voted NO on the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) in 2005, and voted YES in 2006 on a free trade pact with Oman.

When he voted against CAFTA, Sen. Obama stated: "There are real problems in the agreement itself. It does less to protect labor than previous trade agreements, and does little to address enforcement of basic environmental standards in the Central American countries and the Dominican Republic...

"So far, almost all of our energy and almost all of these trade agreements are about making life easier for the winners of globalization, while we do nothing as life gets harder for American workers."

Summary for Barack Obama on Free Trade

  • Is he generally a supporter of U.S. free trade: YES
  • Does he actively push for major modifications to U.S. free trade arrangements? YES
JOHN EDWARDS (See Edwards in 2008 News & Info Hub)
John Edwards is the only 2008 Democratic candidate with a separate webpage devoted to outlining his trade policy proposals.

Former Sen Edwards supports "'smart trade' policies: insisting on pro-worker provisions in new deals, holding trade partners to their commitments, investing more in dislocated workers and communities, and ensuring that imports are safe. He believes that the U.S. should not enter any new trade deals that do not meet these tests. His agenda is based upon three principles:

  • Help Workers as Well as Corporations
  • Lift Up Families Around the World
  • Build on Other Efforts to Share Prosperity"
In early 2004, former Sen. Edwards stated in a campaign forum event:

"I believe we need trade that works for America and the world, and have outlined a new approach to trade agreements that will protect American jobs and require labor and environmental standards in trade agreements."

And at a January 2004 primary debate, Edwards commented:

"I didn't vote for NAFTA. I campaigned against NAFTA. I voted against the Chilean trade agreement, against the Caribbean trade agreement, against the Singapore trade agreement, against final passage of fast track for this president."

As a senator, John Edwards voted NO on every U.S. free trade bill, except for the Andean countries free trade agreement.

Summary for John Edwards on Free Trade

  • Is he generally a supporter of U.S. free trade: NO
  • Does he actively push for major modifications to U.S. free trade arrangements? YES

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