Free trade flip-flop dogs Clinton in White House quest

AFP

© Getty/AFP/File / by Jeremy Tordjman | A protest over the Trans-Pacific Partnership at the Democratic National Convention in July 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

WASHINGTON (AFP) – It’s at the heart of Hillary Clinton’s fight against charges that she will say anything to get elected: a history of flip-flopping over free trade that has proven powerful ammunition for rival Donald Trump.Three weeks before US voters choose their next president, Democrat Clinton has yet to explain her former support for the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact championed by outgoing President Barack Obama.

She needs to: Republican Trump will certainly raise the issue in Wednesday’s last debate as he tries to gain the upper hand over the White House front-runner.

The 12 Pacific Rim countries agreed on the ambitious deal to cut trade and investment barriers last year, and the only thing now blocking its implementation is ratification by the US Congress.

That makes the TPP a potent election issue, and huge opposition from US voters left and right has rendered support for ratification poisonous for the candidates.

– TPP ‘gold standard’ –

As Obama’s secretary of state during 2009-2013, Clinton supported TPP. In October 2012 she said it “sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade.”

But she made a 180 degree turn after entering the presidential race and her primary opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders, took a strong stand against TPP, saying it cost US jobs.

“Based on what I know so far, I can’t support this agreement,” she said last year. “The risks are too high that, despite our best efforts, they will end up doing more harm than good for hard-working American families.”

Since she won the Democratic nomination, Trump, also a strong critic of TPP, has repeatedly put Clinton on the spot over her previous view.

Clinton denies flip-flopping. But a leaked 2015 email from Clinton speechwriter Dan Schwerin suggests she is less opposed to TPP than her public position.

“This is indeed a hard balance to strike, since we don’t want to invite mockery for being too enthusiastically opposed to a deal she once championed, or over-claiming how bad it is, since it’s a very close call on the merits,” he wrote.

Trump’s campaign immediately took up the email as a point of attack.

“Now We Know Clinton’s TPP Flip-Flop Was Just Another Cynical Political Ploy By The Most Cynical Politician In American History,” the campaign declared in a statement Sunday.

– Shifting views –

It is not the first time Clinton has faced challenges over her shifting views on free trade agreements.

In the 2008 presidential primaries, Obama attacked Clinton over her support for Nafta, the 1994 US-Mexico-Canada free trade pact pioneered by her husband Bill when he was president.

“She said great things about Nafta until she started to run for president,” Obama said at the time.

In fact, Clinton’s position on Nafta has substantially evolved as critics in her own Democratic Party alleged the treaty accelerated the erosion of the US industrial base and the loss of jobs.

Originally, she wrote that Nafta results in the United States “reaping the benefits, not the burdens, of globalization.”

But in the 2007 race she said that Nafta “was a mistake to the extent that it did not deliver on what we had hoped it would.”

Those changes are not necessarily signs of weakness or proof of duplicity, said John Hudak, an expert on politics at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

“Secretary Clinton has certainly evolved on trade over time, thinking a little bit more closely about its impact on the average American worker,” he told AFP.

“Certainly, there is political calculus behind this. But the idea that everyone who evolves on an issue is inherently a problem is misleading.”

Yet the question remains: what does Clinton, possibly the next US president, think about free trade?

While she was a senator representing New York in 2001-2006, she voted in favor of almost every trade agreement that came across her desk.

Today she publicly stresses the need for “smart, fair trade deals,” even as the Wikileaks documents showed her less reserved, expressing hope for a common market across the western hemisphere.

“You need both a public and a private position,” she said in a private 2013 speech revealed by Wikileaks.

by Jeremy Tordjman

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