(Disclosure: Global Trade Watch has no preference among the candidates.)
As I see it, we should evaluate trade policy on three overlapping dimensions:
- Who is affected
- How is it made
- What are the "surprise" implications for non-trade policy
On the first front, I'm thinking of how our trade policy has resulted in (or not helped us avoid) a skyrocketing trade deficit, largely stagnant wages and farm prices, and the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs, hundreds of thousands of family farms, and an increasing number of service sector jobs. Nearly every candidate touches on this part of the issue - even Huckabee and Romney with their comments on manufacturing. (McCain has spoken about compensating losers through TAA.) With the exception of Ron Paul (who calls for scrapping the WTO, NAFTA, etc. directly), the whole field talks about the losses from trade policy for many people. They are largely silent on the trade-wage connections.
The second category relates to how we make trade policy. For four decades, our trade policy has been conceived under the undemocratic Fast Track mechanism, which takes away Congress' constitutional authority and responsibility to set our trade policy, and gives it to an executive branch that sets the terms and picks the partner countries and writes the deal, leaving Congress only an up or down vote. Obama has talked about replacing Fast Track, while Clinton has said she will hold off from asking for Fast Track until she reviews past agreements.
Finally, as we have long been arguing, trade policy these days is only marginally about trade. Much of the 600-page texts of the WTO and FTAs has to do with how we adopt policies domestically. Thus, a move to universal health care could be challenged as a limitation on market access for health insurance companies. Under our FTAs, investors can demand taxpayer money for public interest policies that limit their future expected profits. Obama has addressed investor-state, consumer protection, and domestic regulation. We haven't heard much from the other candidates on this dimension.
As we'll document in an upcoming report, both the Dem and GOP health care and climate change proposals could face WTO challenge. More specific responses to these and other questions can help voters can make an informed choice.