WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders staked out deeper positions on trade in questionnaires released Tuesday by the Pennsylvania Fair Trade Coalition ahead of the state’s primary next week.
The questionnaires covered a range of trade-related measures and impacts — from the candidates’ positions on the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal to the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment agreement between the U.S. and European Union; the need to include strong labor and environmental protections to provisions penalizing currency manipulation by trading partners.
Clinton and Sanders have been locked in a heated campaign for the party’s nomination and antitrade rhetoric has reached a fever pitch in this presidential campaign.
Clinton, who has a mixed voting record on trade deals during her time in the Senate, was asked to describe the overall impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada, a trade deal her husband, former President Bill Clinton, supported and helped usher through Congress in 1993. NAFTA took effect in 1994.
“Across all of our policies, American workers and American jobs have to come first,” the candidate said. “And one area where we’ve gotten this balance wrong over the years is trade. Looking back over the past decades, as globalization picked up steam, there’s no doubt that the benefits of trade have not been as widely enjoyed as many predicted. Corporations have won but many workers lost. They lost their jobs, and they lost their sense of purpose.”
She said she has called for renegotiating NAFTA for over a decade and still believes in that today.
“I’ve not against all trade, but I insist that it be fair trade,” Clinton said, reiterating what she has said on the campaign trail — that all trade deals must pass a three-part test for her support: create U.S. jobs, raise wages and improve national security.
“I think we should review all existing trade agreements with the same scrutiny,” she said.
Sanders has blamed Clinton for supporting NAFTA, although she was first lady at the time the deal was passed and had no voting power.
In his response to the questionnaire, Sanders claimed that NAFTA cost the U.S. economy hundreds of thousands of jobs, a figure he put at a loss of 850,000 jobs.
“Not only has our trade policy cost us millions of decent paying jobs, it has led to a race to the bottom,” the Vermont senator said.
“As president, we will work together to fundamentally rewrite our trade policies to make sure American jobs are no longer our number one export,” he added.
Clinton and Sanders reiterated their opposition to the 12-nation TPP which was signed by all of the countries in early February and must be ratified by the governments to take effect.
Many lawmakers have come out against TPP because of what they describe as weak provisions on cracking down on currency manipulation.
On including enforceable provisions against currency manipulation in trade deals, Clinton said the U.S. needs to “crack down on foreign countries, like China that cheat the rules.”
“One of the reasons I opposed the final terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement was my own concern that it didn’t do enough to address currency manipulation,” Clinton said. “I will take on foreign countries that keep their goods artificially cheap by manipulating their currencies and expand our toolbox to include effective new remedies to respond, such as duties, tariffs or other measures.”
Sanders said he was one of 60 senators who demanded that TPP include enforceable rules against currency manipulation.
“As almost everyone knows, China, Japan and many other countries are manipulating their currency, giving these currency manipulators an unfair trade advantage over the United States and destroying decent-paying manufacturing jobs in the process. If we imposed a currency manipulation fee on China and other countries, we could raise hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue and create at least 2.2 million jobs,” he vowed. “As president that’s exactly what I would do.”
Both candidates were also asked if they would support or oppose future trade agreements such as TPP and T-TIP if they included controversial investor-state dispute settlement provision, a mechanism that allows foreign corporations to challenge U.S. federal, state and local laws, regulations, court decisions and government actions.
Sanders said he would not approve any trade agreement that contains the ISDS system.
The TPP creates a special dispute resolution process that “allows corporations to challenge any domestic laws that could adversely impact their ‘expected future profits,’” he said.
“These challenges would be heard before the U.N. and World Bank tribunals, which could require taxpayer compensation to corporations,” Sanders charged. “This process undermines our sovereignty and subverts democratically passed laws including those dealing with labor, health and the environment.”
Clinton called the ISDS provisions in TPP “flawed,” adding there “needs to be a new paradigm for trade agreements that doesn’t give special rights to corporations that workers and NGOs don’t get.”
Asked if they would support or oppose attempts to reestablish “fast track” or Trade Promotion Authority when it expires, Sanders said he would oppose it but Clinton said she would apply her three-part trade test for such legislation.
“When the Bush administration sought trade promotion authority in 2002, I opposed it because I was not confident that they would pursue agreements that would meet these high standards,” she noted.
Under TPA, formerly known as fast track, Congress can set negotiating objectives and consultation requirements for the executive branch, but trade deals are limited to an up-or-down vote. It is seen as a vital tool for trade negotiations and it allows foreign governments to make their best offers knowing Congress cannot tear apart a final deal.
The candidates were also asked if they would support a new model for TPA that would give Congress the right to veto trading partners proposed by the executive branch and include criteria to determine appropriate negotiating partners.
Sanders said he would support a change and expansion of TPA to give Congress more power, as did Clinton.
Trade deals that do not mention the phrase “climate change” would not get Sanders’ support. He vowed to convene a climate change summit with environmental leaders even before his inauguration if he is elected and pledged to sign the “most ambitious series of executive orders in history” to deal with climate change on the day of his presidency.
Clinton ensured that U.S. trade policy would support “rather than undermine” policies to reduce emissions in the U.S. and “encourage climate action abroad.”
“I know there is concern among environmental groups that the ISDS provisions in the TPP could be used to undermine U.S. efforts to cut carbon pollution and take action on climate change,” Clinton said, adding that it is time for a new paradigm.