At a campaign stop Friday, October 17, in Miami, Florida, Sen. John McCain said, "If I'm elected president, I won't make it harder to sell our goods overseas ... as Sen. Obama proposes. I'll open new markets to goods made in America and make sure our trade is free and fair."
Get the facts!
Under several regional free trade agreements, tariffs on many goods exported to and imported from other nations have been eliminated. The deals expand opportunities for U.S. exporters to sell their products to those specific countries. But critics say they lead to job losses.
On the campaign trail, McCain and Obama have argued over free trade pacts, generally involving nations in the Western Hemisphere. While both say they support free trade, McCain is a stronger defender of the free trade deals, and Obama is a much more vocal critic. Obama voted for a pact with Peru, but against the Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA),
which McCain supported. Obama also opposes a free trade deal with Colombia, which McCain supports.
The issue of free trade played a major role during the Democratic primary, when Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton skewered each other's records on the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) - which key Democratic voting blocs oppose. At a debate in February, Obama vowed to "renegotiate" NAFTA, using "the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage to ensure that we actually get labor and environmental standards that are enforced." Two months later, speaking to a manufacturing group in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Obama cited his opposition to both NAFTA and CAFTA.
But in the general election campaign, Obama has softened his stance on NAFTA. Fortune magazine, in an article published online by CNNMoney.com, reported in June that Obama "backed off his harshest attacks on the free trade agreement and indicated he didn't want to unilaterally reopen negotiations on NAFTA."
The article quoted Obama saying, "Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified."
On his Web site, Obama vows to "fight for fair trade" and "use trade agreements to spread good labor and environmental standards around the world and stand firm against agreements like the Central American Free Trade Agreement that fail to live up to those important benchmarks." He also says he will amend NAFTA "so that it works for American workers."
In the final presidential debate this week, McCain called a free trade deal with Colombia "a no-brainer," and described Colombia as "our largest agricultural importer of our products." The U.S. Department of Agriculture lists Colombia as the 12th largest U.S. agricultural importer, but the largest in South America. Obama responded that he opposes the deal with Colombia because "labor leaders have been targeted for assassination on a fairly consistent basis and there have not been prosecutions." He added, "We have to stand for human rights."
Obama has also argued that some trade deals need to be reformed to make it easier for U.S. businesses to export their products. "We cannot let foreign regulatory policies exclude American products," he said at a speech in June. At this week's debate with McCain he pointed to a deal with South Korea that he opposes and McCain supports. Obama complained that U.S. automakers have only been able to export to South Korea a fraction of the cars that South Korea has sent to the United States. "That is not free trade," Obama said.
True, but incomplete. Obama's opposition to certain free trade agreements would make it harder for some U.S. exporters to sell their products, but only in some countries covered by those deals.