Free trade pacts are good for the economy
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were critical of NAFTA during the Ohio campaign.
Protectionist pandering to Ohio voters by Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama about free trade has sent shivers around the globe and threatens to force the presidential winner to adopt unwise trade policies. They should tone down their rhetoric on the issue and acknowledge that much of the opposition to free trade is unfounded.
During the primary campaign, Obama said Ohio workers have "watched job after job after job disappear because of bad trade deals like NAFTA," the 1993 North America Free Trade Agreement. President Bill Clinton championed the agreement, relying on Republicans to gain its passage by Congress. Sen. Clinton said she tried to persuade her husband not to support it.
To his credit, Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, spoke plainly while campaigning in Texas: "I support NAFTA. I support free trade. I support it in Ohio. I support it in Texas. I support it all over the country."
Ohio did lose 200,000 jobs between 2000 and 2003, but that state sold more goods to Canada and Mexico than it took in during that period. John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, attributes the job loss to the state's recession during that period and technological advances that enable manufacturers to "make more products today with fewer people."
Details of the similar positions taken by Obama and Clinton are not radical. They would merely strengthen labor and environmental standards for trade partners. Under Democratic pressure, the Bush administration began last year to work such standards into several trade agreements. Obama's threat to "use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage" was excessive, despite the embarrassing allegation that an Obama aide told Canadian diplomats not to worry.
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