Presidential hopefuls on so-called ‘free trade’ pacts

Before Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton was against the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “free trade” pact, she was for it.

That’s quite different from her Democratic foe, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt. Voting records and statements show Sanders has spoken out and voted against every single so-called “free trade” pact since he entered Congress more than two decades ago.

His consistency helped Sanders eke out a narrow upset win over Clinton in Michigan. The contrast could also be important in other industrial states, starting with Missouri and Illinois and running through the rest of the primaries. Voters in those two states cast ballots March 15.

By contrast, Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., hew to the GOP’s pro-free trade line, heedless of the loss of millions of U.S. jobs, first in factories and more lately in services, that such pacts cause as companies transplant their work to low-wage low-standard developing nations in occupations ranging from building cars to manning call centers.

Donald Trump? He opposes the TPP, too – but he’d make deals with individual nations.

And the fourth GOP contender, Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio, is all over the lot.

Defeating such anti-worker trade pacts is a key plank in organized labor’s Raise The Wage campaign, whose platform unions and their members are using to make endorsements and channel voluntary political spending this year. Labor is not against trade, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and other leaders say, but it’s against unfair trade the pacts create.

THE DEMOCRATS

Speaking to the AFL-CIO Executive Council last year, Clinton differed with Sanders on trade. Sanders touted his 25-year legislative record of opposing job-losing trade pacts, rattling them off: “NAFTA, CAFTA, PNTR and the WTO,” the latter two being normal trade relations with China and Chinese admission to the World Trade Organization.

Then Sanders vowed to scrap the Trans Pacific Partnership, too. Workers and unions also oppose the TPP, without worker rights and with a secret pro-business trade court that could override state, local and federal laws that might harm present and future profits.

Responding in writing to an AFL-CIO questionnaire, Sanders added that: “The TPP is much more than a ‘free trade’ agreement. It is part of an effort to boost profits for large multinational corporations and Wall Street by offshoring jobs, undercutting worker rights and dismantling labor, environmental, food safety, health and financial laws.

“We must fundamentally rewrite our trade policies. Our goal must be to ensure that American-made products, not American jobs, are our #1 export,” he declared.

And in the latest debate between the two, in Flint, Mich., Sanders not only reminded voters that he opposed all the “free trade” pacts but that President Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton’s husband, pushed the GOP-negotiated NAFTA pact through Congress, over labor opposition.

Hillary Clinton supported NAFTA, but later opposed CAFTA – the Central American free trade pact modeled on NAFTA-negotiated by GOP President George W. Bush.

Clinton told reporters after the executive council meeting last year that “we extensively discussed trade in general and the TPP in particular.” She said then that “at this point, I’m hearing there have been some changes in a direction I might approve” towards stronger worker rights and lessened influence of a business-slanted secret trade court. But two months later, she stated the TPP “failed to meet her standards” and she could not endorse it now.

“Like most human beings, I absorb new information,” Clinton said during a Democratic debate in Las Vegas last October. “Take the trade deal. I did say, when I was Secretary of State three years ago, that it would be the gold standard. It was just finally negotiated, and looking at it, it didn’t meet my standards – my standards for more new good jobs for Americans, for raising wages for Americans.

“I want to make sure I could look in the eyes of any middle-class American and say ‘This will raise your wages.’ And I concluded I could not.”

THE REPUBLICANS

Months before the Michigan primary, in a Fox News-hosted debate last November, Trump said he would “make individual deals” on trade with various nations, without being specific. He also declared “I am a free trader 100 percent. But we need smart people making the deals and we don’t have smart people making the deals.”

Trump then launched into a denunciation of China as the biggest violator of trade rules without realizing China is not in the TPP, though the pact has a provision that could let China enter later. Trump blasted Chinese currency manipulation and other tactics it uses to undercut U.S. workers, factories and jobs. The TPP is virtually silent on the manipulation.

Cruz supports free trade, but blasts what he calls “The Washington Cartel” – leaders of both parties, plus Obama – and how it reaches such deals while violating Republican stands and promises to voters. Cruz didn’t focus on trade pacts, but he mentioned another trade issue, the Export-Import Bank, during his diatribe on the Senate floor last year. Then he called Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kent., a liar, for negotiating with Obama and Democrats. Kasich’s record is mixed. He said last year that passing the TPP would create “a strategic alliance against China,” endorsing it. But in July 1991, while still a House member, Kasich joined a bipartisan majority to pass the U.S.-China Trade Act, authored by Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., now the minority leader, to write tight safeguards on Chinese trade status.

Labor fought hard for years against so-called “permanent normal trade relations” – free trade – for China, and GOP President George H.W. Bush vetoed Pelosi’s bill. But his son, George W. Bush, imposed three years of declining tariffs on Chinese steel, starting in 2004.

While in Congress, Kasich introduced legislation ordering the senior Bush to impose the tariffs on subsidized imported Chinese steel. Ohio is a large steel-producing state.

In 1998, Kasich voted to give presidents “fast-track” trade authority to negotiate “free trade” pacts and in 2000 he joined a huge bipartisan House majority that voted against pulling out of the World Trade Organization. He’s also voted for free trade for sub-Saharan African countries.

In his successful 2010 U.S. Senate campaign, Rubio, then a tea party favorite, backed so-called “free trade” pacts. “We must continue reducing barriers to free and fair trade,” he said in a debate in Florida that October.

But he promptly followed that comment by backing free trade pacts that aren’t fair: “We should adopt the free trade agreements that have already been negotiated with Colombia, Panama, South Korea and other nations around the world. We should also insist that other countries lower their own barriers to trade so American goods can find new markets.”

Photo: Anti-TPP protest, AFL-CIO NOW blog.

 


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C.

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