Hillary's Record: Pretending to Oppose Trade Agreements

I don't believe Hillary Clinton's recent announcement that she opposes the awful Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is sincere. She hasn't just done this once. She did it before, on NAFTA. She has, in fact, a long record of verbally criticizing free-trade agreements, but then supporting them when in office.
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I've already written about why I don't believe Hillary Clinton's recent announcement that she opposes the awful Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is sincere.

But she hasn't just done this once. She did it before, on NAFTA. She has, in fact, a long record of verbally criticizing free-trade agreements, but then supporting them when in office.

For example, during the 2008 campaign, she announced that she'd "renegotiate" NAFTA to fix its defects. Here's the transcript from the February 26, 2008 Democratic debate in Cleveland:

Moderator Tim Russert: Will you, as president, say we are out of NAFTA in six months?

Clinton: I have said that I will renegotiate NAFTA, so obviously, you'd have to say to Canada and Mexico that that's exactly what we're going to do. . . . Yes, I am serious. . . . I will say we will opt out of NAFTA unless we renegotiate it, and we renegotiate on terms that are favorable to all of America. . . .

Russert: Senator Obama . . . Simple question: Will you, as president, say to Canada and Mexico, "This has not worked for us; we are out"?

Obama: I will make sure that we renegotiate, in the same way that Senator Clinton talked about. And I think actually Senator Clinton's answer on this one is right. I think we should use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage to ensure that we actually get labor and environmental standards that are enforced. And that is not what has been happening so far.

As you can see, both Clinton and Obama promised to do something about NAFTA if elected. Barack Obama hasn't exactly covered himself with glory here: he certainly hasn't renegotiated NAFTA, despite the fact that he was elected. But Clinton, as his Secretary of State, has failed just as egregiously. She went in the opposite direction, helping to negotiate the NAFTA-esque Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Clinton's record on free trade agreements is, in fact, a long saga of rhetorical bobbing and weaving to handle changing political expediencies, while on actual policy she does what the free traders want. Here's an edited compilation of her record (credit National Public Radio):

1996: "I think everybody is in favor of free and fair trade. I think NAFTA is proving its worth." (March 6, 1996: At an event at the Nicole Miller company in NY.)

2000: "What happened to NAFTA, I think, was we inherited an agreement that we didn't get everything we should have got out of it in my opinion. I think the NAFTA agreement was flawed. The problem is we have to go back and figure out how we are going to fix that." (March 26, 2000: Speech before the Working Families Party, per Clinton 2008 campaign.)

2003: "Creating a free trade zone in North America -- the largest free trade zone in the world -- would expand U.S. exports, create jobs and ensure that our economy was reaping the benefits, not the burdens, of globalization. Although unpopular with labor unions, expanding trade opportunities was an important administration goal." (From her memoir Living History.)

2003: Voted in favor of Singapore and Chilean free-trade agreements as senator.

2004: "I think on balance NAFTA has been good for New York and America, but I also think that there are a number of areas where we're not dealt with in an upfront way in dealing with our friend to the north, Canada, which seems to be able to come up with a number of rationales for keeping New York agricultural products out of Canada." (Jan. 5, 2004: Via teleconference.)

2004: Voted in favor of Australia free-trade agreement as senator. (July 15, 2004)

2004:Voted in favor of Morocco free-trade agreement. (July 21, 2004)

2006: Voted in favor of Oman free trade agreement. (June 29, 2006)

2007: "NAFTA was inherited by the Clinton Administration. I believe in the general principles it represented, but what we have learned is that we have to drive a tougher bargain. Our market is the market that everybody wants to be in. We should quit giving it away so willy-nilly. I believe we need tougher enforcement of the trade agreements we already have. You look at the trade enforcement record between the Clinton Administration and the Bush Administration, the Clinton Administration brought more trade enforcement actions in one year than the Bush Administration brought in six years. For me, trade is who we are. We're traders. We want to be involved in the global economy, but not be played for suckers." (Feb. 1, 2007: Time magazine interview.)

2007: "I support the trade agreement with Peru. It has very strong labor and environmental protections. This agreement makes meaningful progress on advancing workers' rights, and also levels the playing field for American workers. Most Peruvian goods already enter the U.S. duty free, but our exports to Peru have been subject to tariffs..." (Clinton campaign statement, 11/8/2007)

2008: "NAFTA was negotiated more than 14 years ago, and Hillary believes it has not lived up to its promises." (2008 campaign website.)

2008: "You know, I have been a critic of NAFTA from the very beginning..."

That particular assertion simply cannot go unchallenged. A verbal critic, perhaps. But not one who backed up words with actions when called upon to act. (The author)

"...I didn't have a public position on it, because I was part of the administration, but when I started running for the Senate, I have been a critic. I've said it was flawed. ... you don't have all the record because you can go back and look at what I've said consistently. And I haven't just said things; I have actually voted to toughen trade agreements, to try to put more teeth into our enforcement mechanisms. And I will continue to do so. ... I'm confident that as president, when I say we will opt out unless we renegotiate, we will be able to renegotiate." (Feb. 26, 2008: During an NBC debate.)

Renegotiate? Nope. Never happened. (The author)

2010: "First, let me underscore President Obama's and my commitment to the Free Trade Agreement. We are going to continue to work to obtain the votes in the Congress to be able to pass it. We think it's strongly in the interests of both Colombia and the United States. And I return very invigorated ... to begin a very intensive effort to try to obtain the votes to get the Free Trade Agreement finally ratified." (June 11, 2010: On RCN Television.)

That statement is more in tune with her actual behavior in office. She vacillates.

2011: "Getting this done together sends a powerful message that America and Korea are partners for the long-term and that America is fully embracing its role as a Pacific power. ... I want to state as strongly as I can how committed the Obama Administration is to passing the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement this year. ... This is a priority for me, for President Obama and for the entire administration. We are determined to get it done, and I believe we will." (April 16, 2011: In a talk to a business group in Seoul, South Korea.)

Free trader again. The Korea free-trade agreement was the biggest since NAFTA.

2012: "We need to keep upping our game both bilaterally and with partners across the region through agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP. ... This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field. And when negotiated, this agreement will cover 40 percent of the world's total trade and build in strong protections for workers and the environment." (Nov. 15, 2012: Comments in Australia.)

But now, of course, she not only doesn't like it, but says it has "too many unanswered questions," i.e. she isn't really sure what's in it.

2014: "One of our most important tools for engaging with Vietnam was a proposed new trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would link markets throughout Asia and the Americas, lowering trade barriers while raising standards on labor, the environment, and intellectual property. ... It was also important for American workers, who would benefit from competing on a more level playing field. And it was a strategic initiative that would strengthen the position of the United States in Asia." (From her second memoir, Hard Choices.)

Vacillating in favor again.

2015: "Hillary Clinton believes that any new trade measure has to pass two tests. First, it should put us in a position to protect American workers, raise wages and create more good jobs at home. Second, it must also strengthen our national security. We should be willing to walk away from any outcome that falls short of these tests. The goal is greater prosperity and security for American families, not trade for trade's sake." (Campaign web site.)

Another vacillation. And no reason to believe it will be the last.

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