Candidates pander to the electorate over NAFTA

NAFTA Flag_Logo_MTAfter the vote tallies are in from today’s primary elections in Texas and Ohio, the presidential candidates should stop talking about gutting international trade treaties.

Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton supported the North American Free Trade Agreement when campaigning in Texas but promised Ohio voters that they would force Canada and Mexico to renegotiate NAFTA.

The reason for two positions on the same subject can be attributed to pandering for votes in Ohio, which has lost manufacturing jobs in recent years, whereas Texas’ economy has grown significantly since Congress approved the NAFTA treaty promoted by former President Clinton.

Since the three-nation trade agreement became law in 1993, manufacturing jobs have decreased. But that number had been decreasing since 1979.

Actually, U.S. manufacturing output has increased 66 percent since the NAFTA pact was signed, due to improved productivity, mainly from high-tech automation.

Since the signing of the Permanent Normalized Trade Relations pact with China in 2000, China, with wage costs below those in Mexico, has become a worldwide manufacturing giant, along with other Asian economies and India.

Once threats are made to go back on treaties with some nations, treaties with all nations are called into question. This is not the way to win trust and friendship among nations.

While campaigning in Texas, Hillary Clinton said NAFTA has benefited Texas, along with other parts of the nation.

Obama said any talk of repealing NAFTA was unrealistic since the loss of NAFTA “would actually result in more job loss . . . than job gains.”

A few days later both candidates told Ohio voters that they would pressure Canada and Mexico to renegotiate NAFTA’s labor and environmental provisions to better favor the United States.

Understandably, these campaign promises did not sit well with officials in Canada and Mexico. Canada’s trade minister said his country might renegotiate trade agreements that control oil and natural gas coming into the United States.

Mexico could demand new terms for agricultural trade that would hurt U.S. farmers and cost American jobs.

In the 15 years since NAFTA was approved, entire industries have been established that would be wrecked by initiating a process that unravels the three-nation agreement.

NAFTA’s labor and environmental provisions were negotiated by former President Clinton and are similar to agreements included in the more recently approved U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement.

Pulling out of NAFTA would devastate the economies along the U.S.-Mexico border, make the United States an unreliable trading partner and would do nothing to bring back manufacturing jobs to Ohio.

As the presidential campaign progresses, voters can only hope for less political rhetoric about trade and more political reality.