Like many Democrats, including the current president, Hillary Clinton has had difficulty maintaining a consistent position on international trade.
As President Obama seeks fast-track authority for a 12-country Pacific trade deal and Congress inches toward giving it to him, Clinton is hedging on a deal she once strongly backed.
"She will be watching closely to see what is being done to crack down on currency manipulation, improve labor rights, protect the environment and health, promote transparency and open new opportunities for our small businesses to export overseas," an aide said in a statement Friday. Additionally, any trade deal would need to pass two tests for Clinton to support it, the campaign said: (1) Protect U.S. workers and raise wages, and (2) strengthen national security.
Yet, previously as secretary of state, Clinton called the Trans-Pacific Partnership the "gold standard in trade agreements." In her second memoir, Hard Choices, released in 2014, Clinton lauded the deal, saying it "would link markets throughout Asia and the Americas, lowering trade barriers while raising standards on labor, the environment, and intellectual property." She even said it was "important for American workers, who would benefit from competing on a more level playing field." She also called it "a strategic initiative that would strengthen the position of the United States in Asia."
That kind of apparent contradiction has been especially glaring during the rollout of her second presidential campaign, as she has tried to pacify the liberal base with talk of constitutional amendments to get undisclosed money out of politics and has launched with a video that noted how "the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top."
It also highlights Clinton's complicated history with trade. Her husband brokered and passed the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, in 1993. The move irked labor unions, which are key to organizational efforts in Democratic campaigns. As first lady, in 1996, Clinton trumpeted NAFTA as "proving its worth."
Two years later, she went to Davos, Switzerland, where she spoke at the World Economic Forum and thanked businesses for lobbying for the agreement. She also criticized them for not making a stronger push to give her husband fast-track authority to negotiate trade deals and limit congressional power to alter those deals. That's something being debated once again, as President Obama seeks a similar authority when it comes to TPP.
As Clinton campaigned for a U.S. Senate seat in New York, where upstate manufacturing jobs had been lost, she backed away from strong support for NAFTA. She called it "flawed," adding that it needed to be fixed and noting, "[W]e didn't get everything we should have got out of it."
As a senator, she voted in favor of free trade agreements with Singapore, Chile, Australia, Morocco and Oman. She also voiced support for deals with Jordan and Peru. But she also voted against the Central American Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA.
When running for president in 2007 and 2008, she spoke strongly against potential agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. Her positions on Colombia and South Korea changed, however, when she became secretary of state under President Obama, who ironically ran to Clinton's left in 2008 on trade.
In 2007, for example, Clinton called the South Korea deal "inherently unfair." Yet, four years later in Seoul, South Korea, as secretary of state, she said getting a South Korea deal done was a "priority for me, for President Obama and for the entire administration. We are determined to get it done, and I believe we will."
In April 2008, before the Pennsylvania primary, where she was trying to woo white working-class men, she said of a Colombia deal that she "will do everything I can to urge the Congress to reject the Colombia Free Trade Agreement."
But again, as secretary of state, she changed her tune.
"We think it's strongly in the interests of both Colombia and the United States," Clinton said two years later. "And I return very invigorated ... to begin a very intensive effort to try to obtain the votes to get the free trade agreement finally ratified."
Here is a timeline of Clinton's positions, in her own words, votes and events related to trade:
NAFTA is passed, takes effect Jan. 1, 1994.
"I think everybody is in favor of free and fair trade. I think NAFTA is proving its worth." (March 6, 1996: At an event for the UNITE union at the Nicole Miller company in New York.)
"There was a very effective business effort in the United States on behalf of NAFTA. There was a very limited and ineffective effort on behalf of fast track. I don't know all the reasons for that. Some of them suggested, but I have no basis for any first-hand knowledge or any analysis that I find convincing. The bottom line is, however, that no one in Congress felt any particular pressure, or demand, by any business interest about giving the President the authority that other presidents have had to negotiate trade agreements.
"Now again, I have to conclude that either American business doesn't care about opening markets around the world — but I find that very hard to believe — or they feel that their involvement in politics is something that they wish to minimize or steer clear of and don't want to become participants in any effort to pass such legislation, or some other reason that I have yet to understand. But the effect was the same. For whatever reason, the fact that the American business community made a very limited effort on behalf of the fast track, left the field completely clear to the rather unusual alliance between the right of the Republican party, which is isolationist, anti-American engagement, quite critical and not supportive of the United Nations, IMF or any multilateral group, and the left of the Democratic party that believes that trade authority, and trade agreements are not in the interests of American workers. So that alliance carried the day. Now when the President comes back to the Congress with a request for fast track authority I hope that American business voices will be heard.
"Having said that, I would add that there does need to be sensitivity to worker and environmental concerns in trade agreements going forward in the future. Certainly if they are going to be agreements that are negotiated with the United States government and require the consent of the United States Congress. So I think that there may be some good reason for business to engage early with labor and with political leadership in Congress and the Administration to try to hammer out a consensus about the kind of fast track authority and the sort of agreements that we want our President to be negotiating. But certainly that will not happen in the absence of some very stated and obvious business concern." (Feb. 2, 1998: Remarks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.)
"What happened to NAFTA, I think, was we inherited an agreement that we didn't get everything we should have got out of it in my opinion. I think the NAFTA agreement was flawed. The problem is we have to go back and figure out how we are going to fix that." (March 26, 2000: Before the Working Families Party, per Clinton 2008 campaign.)
"Creating a free trade zone in North America — the largest free trade zone in the world — would expand U.S. exports, create jobs and ensure that our economy was reaping the benefits, not the burdens, of globalization. Although unpopular with labor unions, expanding trade opportunities was an important administration goal." (From Clinton's first memoir, Living History. She was arguing that the Clinton administration could do both health care and NAFTA at once, but Bill Clinton and his advisers did not think so.)
"Senator Dole was genuinely interested in health care reform but wanted to run for president in 1996. He couldn't hand incumbent Bill Clinton any more legislative victories, particularly after Bill's successes on the budget, the Brady bill and NAFTA." (Also excerpted from Living History by Hillary Clinton)
"I think on balance NAFTA has been good for New York and America, but I also think that there are a number of areas where we're not dealt with in an upfront way in dealing with our friend to the north, Canada, which seems to be able to come up with a number of rationales for keeping New York agricultural products out of Canada." (Jan. 5, 2004: Via teleconference.)
Voted in favor of Australian free-trade agreement. (July 15, 2004)
"I look at each agreement in its totality and measure the impact of each agreement on the New Yorkers that I am privileged to represent." (Clinton said of her vote for the agreement.)
Voted in favor of Morocco free-trade agreement. (July 21, 2004)
Voted against CAFTA. (July 1, 2005)
Voted in favor of Oman free-trade agreement. (June 29, 2006)
"NAFTA was inherited by the Clinton Administration. I believe in the general principles it represented, but what we have learned is that we have to drive a tougher bargain. Our market is the market that everybody wants to be in. We should quit giving it away so willy-nilly. I believe we need tougher enforcement of the trade agreements we already have. You look at the trade enforcement record between the Clinton Administration and the Bush Administration, the Clinton Administration brought more trade enforcement actions in one year than the Bush Administration brought in six years. For me, trade is who we are. We're traders. We want to be involved in the global economy, but not be played for suckers." (Feb. 1, 2007: Time interview.)
"While I value the strong relationship the United States enjoys with South Korea, I believe that this agreement is inherently unfair. It will hurt the U.S. auto industry, increase our trade deficit, cost us good middle-class jobs and make America less competitive." (June 9, 2007: Clinton before AFL-CIO confederation.)
"I support the trade agreement with Peru. It has very strong labor and environmental protections. This agreement makes meaningful progress on advancing workers' rights, and also levels the playing field for American workers. Most Peruvian goods already enter the U.S. duty free, but our exports to Peru have been subject to tariffs. However, I will oppose the pending trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama. The South Korean agreement does not create a level playing field for American carmakers. I am very concerned about the history of violence against trade unionists in Colombia. And as long as the head of Panama's National Assembly is a fugitive from justice in America, I cannot support that agreement. Accordingly, I will oppose the trade agreements with these countries." (Clinton campaign statement, 11/8/2007) (Though she voiced support for the Peru deal, she did not vote on it. There was a Democratic primary debate the day it was voted on.)
"Look, NAFTA did not do what many had hoped, and so we do need to take a look at it and we do need to figure out how we're going to have trade relations that are smart, that give the American worker and the American consumer rights around the world. ... NAFTA was a mistake to the extent that it did not deliver on what we had hoped it would, and that's why I call for a trade timeout when I am president. I'm going to evaluate every trade agreement. ... we need the International Labor Organization and other mechanisms that will be there to enforce labor rights and environmental rights, and that's what I intend to do as president." (Nov. 15, 2007: During a CNN debate)
"NAFTA was negotiated more than 14 years ago, and Hillary believes it has not lived up to its promises." (On Clinton's campaign website.)
Clinton also called for a "new trade 'prosecutor'": "She will appoint a trade enforcement officer and double the enforcement staff at USTR. The current staff is too small to monitor and enforce the increasingly complex trade agreements." (On Clinton's campaign website.)
"You know, I have been a critic of NAFTA from the very beginning. I didn't have a public position on it, because I was part of the administration, but when I started running for the Senate, I have been a critic. I've said it was flawed. ... you don't have all the record because you can go back and look at what I've said consistently. And I haven't just said things; I have actually voted to toughen trade agreements, to try to put more teeth into our enforcement mechanisms. And I will continue to do so. ... I'm confident that as president, when I say we will opt out unless we renegotiate, we will be able to renegotiate." (Feb. 26, 2008: During an NBC debate.)
"As I have said for months, I oppose the deal. I have spoken out against the deal, I will vote against the deal, and I will do everything I can to urge the Congress to reject the Colombia Free Trade Agreement." (April 8, 2008: Before the Communications Workers of America. Her husband was in favor of it, her campaign had to distance her from his position, and her senior strategist Mark Penn was demoted because of ties to Colombia through his communications firm.)
"First, let me underscore President Obama's and my commitment to the Free Trade Agreement. We are going to continue to work to obtain the votes in the Congress to be able to pass it. We think it's strongly in the interests of both Colombia and the United States. And I return very invigorated ... to begin a very intensive effort to try to obtain the votes to get the Free Trade Agreement finally ratified." (June 11, 2010: On RCN Television. She also flew her husband in for dinner in Bogota, Colombia, with key players. Bill Clinton has always been in favor; his foundation has taken money from people with business interests there, as reported and written about in a forthcoming book by Peter Schweizer.)
"Getting this done together sends a powerful message that America and Korea are partners for the long-term and that America is fully embracing its role as a Pacific power. ... I want to state as strongly as I can how committed the Obama Administration is to passing the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement this year. ... This is a priority for me, for President Obama and for the entire administration. We are determined to get it done, and I believe we will." (April 16, 2011: In a talk to a business group in Seoul, South Korea.)
"We need to keep upping our game both bilaterally and with partners across the region through agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP. ... This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field. And when negotiated, this agreement will cover 40 percent of the world's total trade and build in strong protections for workers and the environment." (Nov. 15, 2012: Comments in Australia.)
"One of our most important tools for engaging with Vietnam was a proposed new trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would link markets throughout Asia and the Americas, lowering trade barriers while raising standards on labor, the environment, and intellectual property. ... It was also important for American workers, who would benefit from competing on a more level playing field. And it was a strategic initiative that would strengthen the position of the United States in Asia." (From her second memoir, Hard Choices.)
"Hillary Clinton believes that any new trade measure has to pass two tests. First, it should put us in a position to protect American workers, raise wages and create more good jobs at home. Second, it must also strengthen our national security. We should be willing to walk away from any outcome that falls short of these tests. The goal is greater prosperity and security for American families, not trade for trade's sake."
Specifically regarding TPP: "She will be watching closely to see what is being done to crack down on currency manipulation, improve labor rights, protect the environment and health, promote transparency and open new opportunities for our small businesses to export overseas." (Campaign statement from aide Nick Merrill.)