In the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have spoken quite a bit about trade and globalization, particularly the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and its effects. However, despite their discussion of the issue, they have largely failed to ask deeper questions about neoliberal globalization and US policy.
Lori Wallach of the group Public Citizen which has campaigned extensively against neoliberal trade agreements and researched their impact, has produced a list of questions that the two frontrunners need to answer:
1. How will they change existing trade agreements such as NAFTA, CAFTA and the WTO to counter job offshoring and labor arbitrage that have reduced U.S. wages? Both Democratic presidential candidates have committed to review NAFTA and to add labor and environmental standards. Obama has committed to doing the same to all existing U.S. trade agreements, including the WTO. Strong labor standards are necessary, but they are not sufficient to alter trade agreements’ damaging economic outcomes for Americans. Labor rights requirements in trade pacts will provide workers in trade partner countries with essential tools to organize for improved wages and conditions over many decades as part of creating a social contract that may take a century to establish, as it did in the United States. However, a future president has a duty to secure tangible gains for Americans who are losing their jobs and seeing their wages stagnate today, and who fear for their children’s futures in the coming decades. That requires changing the status quo trade model by eliminating provisions that promote immediate offshoring of U.S. production and jobs. The foreign investor protections included in these agreements directly incentivize offshoring by removing the risks normally associated with relocating to low-wage developing countries. Will the candidates commit to renegotiate the existing trade agreements’ foreign investor protections that directly promote offshoring?
2. How will a future president remedy the China trade imbalance? In November 2007, the U.S. reached a new record annual trade deficit with China — without December’s figures even being calculated. Ohio has lost more than 200,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000. Ohio manufacturers are unable to compete when China grants enormous subsidies to foreign investors and misaligns its currency, which Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke calls “an effective subsidy.” What specific actions will each candidate take in his or her first year to address the U.S.-China trade debacle?
3. How will they deliver on their promises to ensure imported food and product safety? Both Democratic presidential candidates have stated that as president, he or she would take urgent action to remedy the current flood of unsafe imported products and food into the U.S. market. However, to do so they must commit to renegotiate current U.S. trade agreements to remove the limits on such domestic consumer protections. Will the candidates commit to renegotiating the limits on imported product and food safety standards and on border inspection rates now included in WTO and NAFTA and change the WTO rules that require us to accept imports that do not meet U.S. safety standards?
4. How will proposals to create jobs by rebuilding America’s infrastructure work in the face of trade agreement bans on “Buy America” and other domestic preference policies? The procurement provisions included in the WTO, NAFTA and the various Free Trade Agreements now in effect undermine the ability of federal and state governments to use tax dollars to create and maintain good jobs by banning “Buy America” and similar preferences. They also include provisions that limit the ability of federal and state governments to use procurement policy to achieve other important social goals, including safeguarding prevailing wages and increasing renewable energy and recycled content. Will the candidates renegotiate existing trade agreements to remove the limits on domestic procurement policies that could impact their existing proposals to create jobs, rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and increase energy efficiency?”
For more on the Democratic Party presidential candidates and their positions on trade issues, see the article “The Democratic Presidential Candidates and Trade.”