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Postman on Politics

Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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February 19, 2008 4:48 PM

Trade may still emerge as campaign issue

Posted by David Postman

United States trade policy is starting to get some attention the race for the Democratic presidential nomination heads into major industrial states. In Wisconsin, which holds its primary today, voters think free trade has cost their state more jobs than it’s created, according to exit polls.

Seven in 10 say U.S. trade with other countries takes more jobs from Wisconsin and fewer than one in five say it creates more jobs for the state. One in 10 say international trade has no effect on the state either way.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama do not appear to be far from each other on trade issues. Both are critical of the Bush administration's trade policy, and even key parts of the Clinton administration's policy, saying they want to renegotiate NAFTA and they oppose giving the president fast track authority to negotiate agreements. Clinton calls for a "time out" from any new agreements.

Both say they oppose pending trade agreements negotiated with Panama and South Korea. Wisconsin Free Trade, a union-backed group that opposes free trade deals, today released questionnaires it received from Clinton and Obama spelling out their opposition to the South Korea Free Trade Agreement and the Panama Free Trade Promotion Agreement.

On Panama;

Clinton said: I am opposed to the Bush administration’s free trade agreement with Panama. As long as the head of the country’s National Assembly is a fugitive from justice in America, I will not consider a trade expansion agreement with Panama.

Obama said: Miguel Gonzalez Pinzon is the President of the Panamanian National Assembly. Gonzalez is
under indictment in the U.S. for the murder of U.S. Army Sgt. Zak Hernandez Laponte and the
attempted murder of U.S. Army Sgt. Ronald Marshall on June 10, 1992. Until that situation is
resolved, we cannot support any trade agreement with Panama.

On South Korea;

Clinton said: I am opposed to the trade agreement with South Korea because it does not create a level playing field for American carmakers. South Korea has a long history of restricting access to its car market, and this agreement does little to change that. The Bush administration concluded the agreement hurriedly and produced a deal that will cost us jobs.

Obama's questionnaire includes a lengthy answer, which said in part: I opposed the South Korea FTA. The Administration negotiated the agreement without consideration for thousands of working Americans and the communities that they live in. Specifically, the participation of workers in the American auto industry in considering the outcomes of this agreement went unsolicited and their legitimate concerns unaddressed. This Administration failed them because it ignored them. That is not the government they deserve.
While the agreement would lead to a significant increase in wealth for banks, telecommunications firms, and some in corporate agriculture, it fails to ensure that all U.S. products -- especially our cars and trucks, but our rice and beef producers as well -- receive fair treatment in that market. ...

The auto industry and its unions neither trust the Korean government nor do they believe the
concessions made are adequate. They also do not trust this Administration to use the tools the
deal includes protecting the auto industry from unfair Korean practices and history is on their
side. I will not support this agreement.

As the campaigns move to Ohio and Pennsylvania I expect we'll hear more about trade. And when a Democratic nominee emerges and faces likely GOP nominee John McCain, there are the makings of a strenuous debate.

McCain's platform calls for continuing free trade agreements, but with some cautions. His Web site says:

America has proven that empowering free markets and free people is the bulwark of liberty and the surest means to prosperity. We have much to be hopeful about, but duty requires that we face the very real threats that endanger our prosperity. The United States has succeeded because we have been more willing to embrace and encourage change than our competitors.

He warns against a "global rising tide of economic isolationism" that he says threatens American entrepreneurs.

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