[Marxism] Obama: NAFTA not so bad after all

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jun 19 07:58:58 MDT 2008


Obama: NAFTA not so bad after all
The Democratic nominee, in an interview with Fortune, says he wants free 
trade "to work for all people."
By Nina Easton, Washington editor
Last Updated: June 18, 2008: 3:00 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (Fortune) -- The general campaign is on, independent voters 
are up for grabs, and Barack Obama is toning down his populist rhetoric 
- at least when it comes to free trade.

In an interview with Fortune to be featured in the magazine's upcoming 
issue, the presumptive Democratic nominee backed off his harshest 
attacks on the free trade agreement and indicated he didn't want to 
unilaterally reopen negotiations on NAFTA.

"Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified," 
he conceded, after I reminded him that he had called NAFTA "devastating" 
and "a big mistake," despite nonpartisan studies concluding that the 
trade zone has had a mild, positive effect on the U.S. economy.

Does that mean his rhetoric was overheated and amplified? "Politicians 
are always guilty of that, and I don't exempt myself," he answered.

Obama says he believes in "opening up a dialogue" with trading partners 
Canada and Mexico "and figuring to how we can make this work for all 

Obama spokesman Bill Burton said that Obama-as the candidate noted in 
Fortune's interview-has not changed his core position on NAFTA, and that 
he has always said he would talk to the leaders of Canada and Mexico in 
an effort to include enforceable labor and environmental standards in 
the pact.

Nevertheless, Obama's tone stands in marked contrast to his primary 
campaign's anti-NAFTA fusillades. The pact creating a North American 
free-trade zone was President Bill Clinton's signature accomplishment; 
but NAFTA is also the bugaboo of union leaders, grassroots activists and 
Midwesterners who blame free trade for the factory closings they see in 
their hometowns.

The Democratic candidates fought hard to win over those factions of 
their party, with Obama generally following Hillary Clinton's lead in 
setting a protectionist tone.

In February, as the campaign moved into the Rust Belt, both candidates 
vowed to invoke a six-month opt-out clause ("as a hammer," in Obama's 
words) to pressure Canada and Mexico to make concessions.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called that threat a mistake, and 
other leaders abroad expressed worries about their trade deals. Leading 
House Democrats, including Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel, 
distanced themselves from the candidates.

Now, however, Obama says he doesn't believe in unilaterally reopening 
NAFTA. On the afternoon that I sat down with him to discuss the economy, 
Obama said he had just spoken with Harper, who had called to 
congratulate him on winning the nomination.

"I'm not a big believer in doing things unilaterally," Obama said. "I'm 
a big believer in opening up a dialogue and figuring out how we can make 
this work for all people."

Obama has repeatedly described himself as a free-trade proponent who 
wants to be a "better bargainer" on behalf of U.S. interests and wants 
agreements to include labor and environmental standards.

In May 2007, congressional Democrats and the Bush administration agreed 
to a plan to include environmental and international labor standards in 
upcoming trade agreements. Still, later that year Obama supported one 
agreement (Peru) and opposed three others (Panama, Colombia, South 
Korea). Labor leaders - many of whom backed Obama in the primary - were 
the chief opponents of those pacts.

Obama jumped into the anti-trade waters with Clinton even though his top 
economics adviser, the University of Chicago's Austan Goolsbee, has 
written that America's wage gap is primarily the result of a globalized 
information economy - not free trade.

On Feb. 8, Goolsbee met with the Canadian consul general in Chicago and 
offered assurances that Obama's rhetoric was "more reflective of 
political maneuvering than policy," according to a Canadian memo 
summarizing the meeting that was obtained by Fortune. "In fact," the 
Canadian memo said, Goolsbee "mentioned that going forward the Obama 
camp was going to be careful to send the appropriate message without 
coming off as too protectionist."

In the Fortune interview, Obama noted that despite his support for 
opening markets, "there are costs to free trade" that must be 
recognized. He noted that under NAFTA, a more efficient U.S. 
agricultural industry displaced Mexican farmers, adding to the problem 
of illegal immigration.

We "can't pretend that those costs aren't real," Obama added. Otherwise, 
he added, it feeds "the protectionist sentiment and the anti-immigration 
sentiment that is out there in both parties."

Obama also reiterated his determination to be a tougher trade bargainer. 
"The Chinese love free trade," he said, "but they are tough as nails 
when it comes to a bargain, right? They will resist any calls to stop 
manipulating their currency. It's no secret they have consistently 
encroached on our intellectual property and our copyright laws. ...We 
should make sure in our trade negotiations that our interests and our 
values are adequately reflected."

Republican nominee John McCain, for his part, is emphasizing his 
consistent position as a free-trader. In a press conference in Boston 
this week, he attacked Obama as protectionist: "Senator Obama said that 
he would unilaterally - unilaterally! - renegotiate the North American 
Free Trade Agreement, where 33 percent of our trade exists. And you know 
what message that sends? That no agreement is sacred if someone declares 
that as president of the United States they would unilaterally 
renegotiate it. I stand for free trade, and with all the difficulties 
and economic troubles we're in today, there's a real bright spot and 
that's our exports. Protectionism does not work."

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