August 01, 2008

 

Why McCain matters....

From: The Wall Street Journal

McCain Champions Free Trade in Canada
By: LAURA MECKLER

June 21, 2008; Page A3

Republican presidential contender John McCain emphasized his support for free trade - a key area of dispute with Democrat Barack Obama - with a trip to Canada Friday and plans to visit Colombia next month.

"Demanding unilateral changes and threatening to abrogate an agreement that has increased trade and prosperity is nothing more than retreating behind protectionist walls," Sen. McCain said in a speech at the Economic Club of Toronto. "If I am elected president, have no doubt that America will honor its international commitments."

A strong supporter of free trade in general and Nafta in particular, Sen. McCain regularly pounces on Sen. Obama for his anti-Nafta comments. But on foreign soil, he was careful not to mention Sen. Obama by name, even if there was little doubt the Democrat was his target. "This is not a political campaign trip," Sen. McCain told a news conference after his speech.

The trip came as Sen. Obama, who sharply criticized U.S. trade deals during the Democratic primaries, has been softening his rhetoric. Still, he remains opposed to pending free-trade deals with Colombia and South Korea, and advisers say he is still committed to renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has been in effect since 1994.

For Sen. McCain, travel abroad helps project an image as world statesman and amplifies his argument that he is best prepared to represent America to the world. In Ottawa, the Canadian capital, he met with Canadian defense and international-trade officials, and held a closed door roundtable with Canadian chief executives.

Next month, he plans a one-day visit to Colombia. Democrats have blocked ratification of a free-trade agreement with Colombia, citing violence in that country, especially against organized labor.

On his coming visit, Sen. McCain plans to argue that Colombia "deserves to be rewarded as our strongest ally in South America," said Charlie Black, a top McCain adviser.

Sen. McCain also supports free-trade agreements with South Korea and Panama, both opposed by Sen. Obama.

For a decade or more, the debate over free trade has been growing in intensity. As barriers to trade have fallen, new markets have opened abroad for U.S. manufacturers and service companies. But economic integration has also meant job losses at home, and public concern has grown sharply that U.S. workers and businesses aren't getting a fair shake in the global marketplace.

Sen. McCain also pressed his position in support of free trade in an op-ed piece published Friday in the Detroit Free Press. While many in the industrial Midwest blame Nafta for job losses, Sen. McCain said the agreement has been good for the U.S. and for Michigan.

He said Sen. Obama's proposal to "unilaterally" renegotiate or ditch the deal would be "the height of economic and foreign policy irresponsibility."

The Obama campaign fired back with a conference call Friday featuring Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat. "He's completely out of touch with the reality of the situation in Michigan," she said of Sen. McCain. "Instead of going to Canada, he should come to Michigan."

During the Democratic primaries, particularly in the days before the Ohio primary, both Sen. Obama and former Democratic contender Sen. Hillary Clinton labored to appear as anti-Nafta as possible. Both said they would pull the U.S. out of the pact if changes aren't agreed to. At one point, Sen. Obama called the agreement "devastating" and "a big mistake."

Asked about those comments by Fortune magazine recently, Sen. Obama backed off. "Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified," he said. He went on to offer a more sober, though still largely critical, assessment of the agreement."

In the Obama conference call, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D. Ohio) said he was certain that, if elected, Sen. Obama would try to renegotiate the agreement. He said it would not be unilateral.

The issue of trade is likely to continue to resonate through this political year, as it did in many states in 2006, when Democrats swept to power on Capitol Hill. It is a key issue in battleground states including Iowa, Ohio and Pennsylvania. It is also important to the labor community, which is a core constituency of the Democratic Party, and working to help elect Sen. Obama.

Sen. McCain clearly thinks the trade issue is a winner for him. But in a March Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, just one in four voters thought globalization had been good, while 58% thought it was bad.

Greg Hitt contributed to this article. Write to Laura Meckler at laura.meckler@wsj.com

Copyright 2008 - The Wall Street Journal

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