Here are the news highlights from this week with trade on the trail:
- Marla Dickerson of the LA Times wrote one of the most comprehensive articles of this election cycle on NAFTA's role in the 2008 elections, "Taste for NAFTA Sours, Candidates not alone in calls for overhaul."
- The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's James O'Toole analyzed Pennsylvania's political climate in "State looks like prime territory for Clinton":
Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers, highlighted the trade issue in a conference call with reporters last week.
"It's fundamental that there be a new dialogue on trade that leads to a new consensus on trade and how we negotiate any future trading agreements or review any existing trade agreements," Mr. Gerard said in the conference call, which was arranged by Public Citizen, a consumer group skeptical of recent trade accords.
"I appreciate that the leading Democratic candidates had a spirited discussion about NAFTA, but the fact of the matter is you can't fix NAFTA by putting in environmental rights and labor rights and pretending that that will fix it ... We need to change the whole discussion about investment, about subsidy, about enforcement of trade laws."
- Steve Holland of Reuters wrote, "NAFTA is working, McCain says; 'Stop This Bashing'; Advocates U.S. trade deal with Colombia":
Critics blame NAFTA, China's accession to the World Trade Organization, and other trade agreements for many of the roughly three million manufacturing jobs the United States has lost since 2000...
..."The moral of the story, my friends, is we're not going back to the old manufacturing base of the economy," [McCain] said.
"The fundamentals of our economy are still strong" and the U.S. has gotten through similar economic difficulties in the past, he added.
"We know that Americans are hurting; we know that these are difficult times," Mr. McCain said citing rising home foreclosures and the loss of manufacturing jobs, particularly in the Midwest.
- Timothy R. Homan of Congressional Quarterly in "Congress to Get Trade Pact With Colombia After Recess":
Administration officials said they would continue to work with lawmakers even after the [Colombia free-trade agreement] is sent to the Hill.
But those talks could be complicated by the Democratic presidential candidates’ criticism of free-trade pacts, particularly as the campaign moves to Pennsylvania, a manufacturing stronghold where opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement runs high among voters. The state holds its primary on April 22.
- Andrew Kohut on the New York Times' Campaign Stops blog asks, "What Foreign Policy Agenda?"
With rising concerns about the economy and jobs in particular, trade is a prime example of a tricky issue for the candidates, let alone the next president. While most Americans continue to think that global trade is a good thing, the number feeling this way is sharply lower than it was in the past. Just 59 percent of Americans say trade with other countries is having a good effect on the United States, down sharply from 78 percent in 2002.
Opinions about free trade are far less positive than views about trade in general. In December 2006, even before the economy went into its current slide, only 35 percent of respondents in a Pew poll said that free trade agreements like NAFTA had helped their financial situation — 36 percent believed those agreements had hurt them.
Trade is a tougher challenge for John McCain than it is for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama because a key element in the Republican base — the business class — remains heavily pro-trade. This may explain why, as of this writing, Senator McCain’s official web site does not name trade as one of the 15 issues “of focus.”
- And young people care a lot about trade Andrew McKeever explains in the Manchester Journal in "Rocking the vote 2008; first-time voters seem to like Obama":
Foreign trade, the globalization of the world's economy and its impact on jobs are clearly on the minds of these students. The jury may still be out on whether trade agreements, like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that became a political hot potato during the March 4 primaries are a good idea, but several were skeptical.
They are well aware of the prospect of an economic slowdown and are already feeling in their own lives. One student saw her work hours cutback at a local store and then her job eliminated. Another spoke of the impact of high gas prices on commuting back and forth to school. Others worried about being prepared for the economy of the future, and the jobs that will be available.
"Many of the jobs that we might get after college don't even exist yet," said Megan Nemlich of BBA. "At the same time, who knows what other person from some other country is more qualified for that job? It should be the person most qualified, but I have to worry about Americans being the most qualified for those jobs."
And if you haven't yet voted in the NAFTA renegotiation or pull out ABC/Facebook poll, click here.
And don't forget to read the candidates' detailed trade positions at www.citizenstrade.org!
Disclosure: Global Trade Watch has no preference among the candidates.