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On the Issues: Candidates split on international trade

Credit: Zeke Rosenberg/Senior Staff, Created on Venngage Credit: Zeke Rosenberg/Senior Staff, Created on Venngage Credit: India Price/ Credit: India Price/

Generally, both Democrats and Republicans tend to be in favor of free trade to an extent, but multiple people are vying for the opportunity to be the most staunchly protectionist president since Herbert Hoover. Free trade has become an increasingly divisive issue since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) removed trade barriers between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Trade has become a flash point once again over the past year. Two of our federal trade agreements, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — a trade pact which removes many trade barriers between Pacific Rim nations — and the Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank — a federal agency designed to give out loans to American exporters — have become the subject of high-profile congressional battles. This is one of the clearest wedge issues between candidates within each party.

Hillary Clinton, Former Secretary of State

While Secretary of State, Clinton was a champion of the TPP, but has since reversed her position. She also seems to oppose a trade deal between the Obama administration and Europe. Clinton’s stated reason is that the currency manipulation protections that were in the TPP when she was privy to discussions were absent from the newest version of the pact. Clinton was away from the negotiations for some time, and it is quite possible that the problems she had with the deal were not in the version she saw, but it is also possible she changed her position in order to gain union support. Clinton has a very mixed history on free trade. She defended NAFTA and as a senator she generally voted for free trade agreements with the notable exception of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which removed trade barriers with countries in Central America and granted test data exclusivity to drug companies to prevent the creation of generic medications. When running for president in 2008, Clinton strongly opposed free trade, calling NAFTA a mistake. The complications of individual free trade deals are probably in play and Clinton likely has a stance individualized to each one. The evidence says she opposes large free trade deals on a conceptual level, but with the right protections she thinks they can be okay, though Clinton still supports smaller deals.

Clinton is less difficult to gauge on export financing. She condemned Republican Congress members for failing to act on the agency’s expiring charter, saying that the jobs supported by the Ex-Im Bank were at risk.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

Sanders has long been a vocal opponent of not just free trade, but trade in general. He denounced the Clinton era Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) with China as shipping jobs over to a country with lax labor laws and hurting the US economy. He had similar concerns with NAFTA and many other free trade deals. Sanders thinks all free trade deals are designed to benefit corporate America at the expense of American workers and give corporations leverage to simply find a new country to operate in if the labor costs get too high. He thinks that globalization nullifies American labor laws.

Sanders also was the only non-Republican to oppose the renewal of the charter of the Ex-Im Bank, calling it an “outrageous example of corporate welfare.” He believes the bank’s claim that it helps small business is untrue.

Retired Neurosurgeon Ben Carson

In his book in 2012, Ben Carson said heavy tariffs on assembled goods would help America’s trade imbalance. However, Carson has said that he supports free trade, although he thinks it should go through Congress given the complexities.

Carson also believes that the Ex-Im Bank is a counterproductive government intervention into the free market.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX)

Cruz supports free trade, but believes that Congress should be able to vet free trade agreements. He refused to pass the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which fast tracked the president’s ability to pass the TPP unless Republican party leadership committed to letting the Ex-Im Bank’s charter expire. The TPA was likely a rebuke of Obama and not free trade.

Ohio Governor John Kasich

Kasich generally supports free trade, but believes there ought be certain limits. His primary issue is that occasionally free trade agreements will allow countries to violate international law and the court challenges take two years while American workers are out of a job. He also plans to focus on currency manipulation, intellectual property, and cyber-attacks when making deals.

Kasich claimed to support the TPP in a Republican debate. However, he has been one of the more vocal opponents of the Ex-Im Bank, saying it is unnecessary corporate welfare that simply exists to fund risky, ventures the market has deemed likely to fail.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL)

Rubio has openly supported free trade in the past on the basis that U.S. companies get access to larger markets by selling to foreign populations. He also has a consistent record of voting for free trade deals with other countries such as Panama, Colombia, and South Korea. Rubio has also supported the TPP on the grounds that it will help the United States strategically in Asia as well as economically, despite the political peril of siding with President Obama as a Republican.

Reality Show Host Donald Trump

Trump has been a vicious critic of free trade. In many Republican debates, Trump has said free trade deals have eroded American jobs. In his 2011 book, Time to Get Tough, Trump said 15 percent tariffs should be imposed on all imported goods and called the South Korean Free Trade Agreement “embarrassing.” He wants to impose heavy tariffs on goods from Mexico and China in particular, saying he was not opposed to a tariff as high as 45 percent. More specifically, he has proposed a 35 percent tariff on cars from Mexico andusing international law to beat back China’s tariffs on American goods and export subsidies. Trump said the tariffs on Mexico would reduce the trade deficit with Mexico and force them into building his wall along the Mexican border in Thursday’s Republican Town Hall on CNN.

Trump has said the United States needs “fair trade” and is a staunchly protectionist candidate. He often says China, Japan, Mexico, and Vietnam are beating America at trade.

Trump probably feels negatively about the Ex-Im Bank given that he believes Chinese export financing is illegal.