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Trade a Flash Point Issue in Pennsylvania’s Democratic Primary

As Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) is set to challenge Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) for his U.S. Senate seat in the upcoming Democratic primary, trade policy has surfaced as a point of contention between the two candidates. Both have criticized the other as being supportive of unfair trade agreements and Specter agreed with the accusation that Sestak is “weak on trade.”

The candidates have a mixed vote record on trade. Specter voted for both NAFTA and the WTO, but has made occasional fair trade votes in recent years, by voting against China PNTR and CAFTA. On the Senate floor in 2005, Specter said of CAFTA,

“This trade agreement would adversely affect this job loss in the United States… many U.S. corporations would have to shut down their operations, export their jobs, and leave skilled workers jobless. This agreement would aggravate the problem. In addition to job loss, this agreement fails to enhance workers' rights…Ultimately, CAFTA would create downward pressure on wages because it would force our American workers to compete with Central American workers who are working for lower wages. This would allow foreign based companies to expand while leaving America more dependent on imports from abroad, which in turn would lessen the demand for domestic production and create even greater economic instability.”

Sestak for his part voted to deny fast-track treatment to the FTA with Colombia and has said that he plans to vote against the Korea and Colombia FTAs.

Yet, both candidates voted for the Peru FTA in 2007 and at this point, neither has cosponsored the TRADE Act – a key demand of fair traders.

The fact that the two candidates are analyzing each other’s trade policies and referring to specific trade agreements shows that political candidates are becoming more educated about trade policy and are using the issue as a platform for (re)election. In other words, trade continues to be a major election issue.

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