The speeches of the Democratic aspirants to their party’s nomination for president in 2008 at the Presidential Forum hosted by the AFL-CIO here in Chicago yesterday were, as you might expect, full of pro-union sentiments and pledges to strengthen unions (an exercise I find strangely reminiscent of Civil War reenactments). They were also peppered with enough isolationism to warm the cockles of your hear. All quotes are taken from this transcript.
And I want to see America take a new direction in trade as part of this, and that means itâ€™s time to get out of NAFTA and the WTO — (cheers) — and have trade — and have trade — and have trade thatâ€™s based on workers right: the right to organize, the right to collective bargaining, the right to strike, the right to decent wages and benefits and on and on.
Well, I had said that for many years, that, you know, NAFTA and the way itâ€™s been implemented has hurt a lot of American workers. In fact, I did a study in New York looking at the impact of NAFTA on business people, workers and farmers who couldnâ€™t get their products into Canada despite NAFTA.
So, clearly we have to have a broad reform in how we approach trade. NAFTAâ€™s a piece of it, but itâ€™s not the only piece of it.
I believe in smart trade. Iâ€™ve said that for years. Pro- American trade. Trade that has labor and environmental standards, thatâ€™s not a race to the bottom but tries to lift up not only American workers but also workers around the world.
We should never have another trade agreement unless it enforces labor protection, environmental standards and job safety. What we need to do is say that from now on, America will adhere to all international labor standards in any trade agreement — no child labor, no slave labor, freedom of association, collective bargaining — that is critically important — making sure that no wage disparity exists.
I would immediately call the president of Mexico, the president of Canada to try to amend NAFTA because I think that we can get labor agreements in that agreement right now. And it should reflect the basic principle that our trade agreements should not just be good for Wall Street, it should also be good for Main Street.
Hey, look, a presidentâ€™s job is to create jobs, not to export jobs, and the idea that we are not willing to take the prime minister of Canada and the president of Mexico to the mat to make this agreement work is just a lack of presidential leadership.
But we also need to do something else here. In addition to having trading agreements that include labor, environmental, health provisions in them, insisting on those provisions in any trading agreement here, we need to stop exporting the jobs in the country that already are here. I offered legislation by banning the outsourcing of jobs in the Senate.
It needs to be fixed, but the first thing I want to say is NAFTA is a perfect example of the bigger problem. This deal was negotiated by Washington insiders, not by anybody in this stadium tonight. And the question is, when are we going to change it? Itâ€™s cost us a million jobs. We need environmental and labor standards. We need actually the Justice Department prosecuting the standards under NAFTA.
Is it worth mentioning that both Joe Biden and Chris Dodd voted to approve NAFTA and the bill was passed under the presidency of the husband of Sen. Clinton, Bill Clinton, who signed it into law? I’m open to the idea that NAFTA can and should be improved but I’m not convinced that the kinds of provisions that are being proposed mean anything other than that the candidates want to shut down trade with Mexico.
China is a strategic competitor. And weâ€™ve got to be tougher on China when it comes to human rights and trade. Weâ€™ve got to say to China, youâ€™ve got to (stop ?) fooling around with currency.
We also have to deal with their currency manipulation. We have to have tougher standards on what they import into this country. I do not want to eat bad food from China or have my children having toys that are going to get them sick. So letâ€™s be tougher on China going forward. (Cheers, applause.)
And I would say theyâ€™re a competitor, but be careful. Itâ€™s getting close to adversary. Letâ€™s not have any illusions here. Chinaâ€™s investing a great deal of its resources in building up a military capacity. And in the 21st century, weâ€™d better recognize here, while theyâ€™re competitors today, if weâ€™re not careful here, then we could face some serious problems with China in the latter part of this century.
The time to worry about China trade was really when some of my friends up here on the stage actually voted for most favored nation.
Now, as president, my most favored nation is America. And I want to say, you know, there was a myth when I was growing up in Cleveland that if you dig a hole deep enough, youâ€™ll get to China. Weâ€™re there — (cheers) — and we need to have a president that understands that and is ready to take a whole new direction in trade with China. (Continued cheers, applause.)
Both Senators Biden and Dodd voted in favor of extending most favored nation status to China. I never thought I’d type these words but Dennis Kucinich is right: if they wanted to restrict trade with China that was the time to do it. I think we should be much more realistic. Our ability to influence Chinese trade, labor, or social policy is, essentially, nill. Either we buy low cost manufactured goods from China or we don’t. China is a country of more than a billion people and we’re not going to move its leaders in the direction of democracy and civil rights if that’s not the direction in which they wish to go (and, believe me, it isn’t).
We do, however, have the ability to influence our own economy by reforming our trade policy with China and IMO we should do so very, very carefully. We’re not going to revive manufacturing in this country by restricting trade with China. That horse is already out of the barn.
The 21st century equivalent of Smoot-Hawley is well under way.