NAFTA Never Mind
This is one of those times when you can have a little fun comparing past campaign rhetoric with the policy reality of a new presidential administration. I recently took a look back at a few of my 2008 presidential campaign posts on NAFTA. It was just a little over a year ago that the Democratic candidates were stepping over each other to garner organized labor support by trashing the North American Free Trade Agreement in advance of several key Midwestern primaries.
The Obama campaign was particularly tough on Hillary Clinton, hitting her for her support of the treaty early in the Clinton Administration. Candidate Obama often talked of the need for greater fairness in trade and promised to renegotiate NAFTA, in order improve the treaty’s labor and environmental protections. You may recall that a furor erupted when one of Barack Obama’s economic advisors, Austin Goolsbee, quietly suggested to Canadian officials that the call for renegotiation was mainly political positioning by the candidate.
Well, it now seems like Goolsbee actually wasn’t all that far off in his off-the-record assessment. As reported in the New York Times on Monday, President Obama apparently has no plans to reopen negotiations on NAFTA. The administration will try to improve on the labor and environment side agreements without forcing a renegotiation of the treaty. There may be some legitimate policy reasons for not reopening the core agreement at this time, but this little episode serves as yet another reminder of the difference between campaigning and governing.

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