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NAFTA, Free Trade and the Presidential Campaign

Obama and Clinton have both called for renegotiating the trade agreement with Mexico and Canada. But the Bush administration says it is working, and wants Congress to approve deals with other countries. Transcript of radio broadcast:

Correction attached

This is the VOA Special English Economics Report.

The debate over free trade has intensified in this election year in the United States.

Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have both threatened to withdraw from NAFTA if they could not renegotiate it as president. The North American Free Trade Agreement, they say, has cost high-wage jobs in the United States.

Their message is clear to people in states like Pennsylvania that have lost thousands of manufacturing jobs to foreign countries.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain has criticized such talk about NAFTA. Senator McCain says the biggest problem is not free trade, but the inability to change with the new world economy.

Congress passed the agreement with Canada and Mexico in nineteen ninety-three. President Bill Clinton signed it into law, though this is the first year NAFTA is fully in effect.

United States trade officials say trade among the NAFTA nations more than tripled from nineteen ninety-three to last year. They say jobs, manufacturing and wages in the United States increased faster in the last fourteen years than in the fourteen years before NAFTA.

Senators Clinton and Obama say Canada and Mexico should agree to add protections for the environment and organized labor. Separate agreements deal with these issues now, but critics say the provisions are weak.

President Bush met this week with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in New Orleans. All three said now is not the time to renegotiate NAFTA.

The Bush administration wants Congress to approve new trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.

The free trade agreement with South Korea would be the biggest since NAFTA. South Korea would cut import taxes on American goods like beef and cars, but duties on rice would stay in place.

Last week South Korea announced plans to fully reopen its beef market to American products. It banned imports at the end of two thousand three over a case of mad cow disease in Washington state.

The A.F.L.-C.I.O. labor group in the United States opposes the free trade agreement with Colombia. It says Colombia has a poor record on labor rights. Seventeen labor organizers have been killed in Colombia this year.

Earlier this month, the House of Representatives voted to delay action on the agreement. Speaker Nancy Pelosi says economic issues at home are more pressing.

And that's the VOA Special English Economics Report, written by Mario Ritter. I'm Steve Ember.


Correction: Unofficial results from Pennsylvania election officials show Hillary Clinton with 54.6 percent of the vote and Barack Obama with 45.4 percent -- a difference of 9.2 percent, not a "10-point victory" as stated in a photo caption in this story.