Hillary Clinton has backed NAFTA-style “free trade” agreements and she has opposed NAFTA-style “free trade” agreements. Like many other prominent Democrats, she has been inconsistent in her support of what is best for workers, the environment and human rights.
But Clinton has a chance to get trade policy right when it matters.
And when it matters is now.
As she launches a 2016 presidential campaign in which she seems to be interested in grabbing the banner of economic populism—going so far as to complain in her announcement video about how “the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top”—Clinton can and should stake out a clear position in opposition to granting President Obama Trade Promotion Authority to negotiate a sweeping Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Despite overwhelming opposition from labor, farm, environmental, and social-justice groups, Congress is preparing to consider whether to provide Obama with the “fast track” authority he seeks to construct a “free trade” deal linking the North American and Asian nations of the Pacific Rim. Imagine the North American Free Trade Agreement on steroids and you get a sense of what is at stake. Yet, so far, Clinton’s office has offered only a statement about how she is “watching closely” as the debate evolves and a suggestion that she wants “greater prosperity and security for American families, not trade for trade’s sake.”
That’s not a clear commitment one way or the other on fast track or the TPP. And the coming congressional debate demands clear commitments not just from members of the House and Senate but from those who seek the presidency.
In many senses, it is remarkable that Congress would even consider surrendering its authority to make amendments, to provide oversight, and to check and balance the executive branch on so vital an economic and social issue. Yet, the legislation has now been introduced and the White House and corporate interests are gearing up a massive campaign on behalf of fast track. If it succeeds, the TPP will be negotiated behind closed doors and with inadequate oversight from Congress.
No matter what anyone thinks about “free trade,” as it is currently arranged to benefit multinational corporations that seek a race-to-the-bottom economics, or “fair trade,” as it should be arranged to protect workers, the environment, and human rights, no one who believes in openness, transparency and democracy should be on the fence regarding fast track .