If elected president, Bernie Sanders would not simply ignore the trade deals he has called "disastrous," but would instead renegotiate them with partner nations, according to an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Donald Trump, another free trade critic in the 2016 presidential race, has vowed to violate the North American Free Trade Agreement and World Trade Organization treaties by imposing tariffs that clearly violate the deals. Sanders, by contrast, has more respect for the conventions of international law. He told the paper that he would maintain the existing deals as he sought to replace them.
"They should be renegotiated," Sanders told the Inquirer. "We have an agreement, legally we have agreement. But they should be renegotiated."
That means that any official benefits from Sanders' opposition to these trade pacts would take years to be realized, even if he succeeds in being reelected and achieves his negotiation goals.
But often the U.S. interpretation of trade pacts has significant implications -- regardless of what the letter of the international law may read. For years, President Bill Clinton's administration insisted that an AIDS relief proposal from South African President Nelson Mandela violated WTO treaties. Although Clinton did not bring a formal WTO challenge against Mandela, his position was enough to prevent Mandela from providing relief, and cowed many other countries against providing low-cost generic versions of prescription drugs that were patented in the United States. When Clinton eventually backed down, however, the international market for cheap AIDS and HIV medication exploded. His interpretation of the WTO is now considered to be totally discredited. (Clinton himself has renounced his actions in the case, and used the Clinton Foundation to provide AIDS and HIV care around the world.)
In his interview with the Inquirer, Sanders is suggesting that, at least for the first few years of a potential Sanders presidency, he would limit his influence over trade policy to this kind of international signaling, rather than overt violations of existing pacts.