2016 U.S. Presidential Candidates on International Trade


Natalie Hatour

With the New York primaries having just ended, the five remaining U.S. presidential candidates continue their campaigns as they prepare for the next big round of primaries on June 7, 2016 (covering California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota).

As one of the top issues in the presidential race, international trade not only divides, but also brings about some commonalities in the positions of all five candidates.

Similar Rhetoric?

To appeal to the interests and concerns of the general American population, “Democratic and Republic candidates are backing away from supporting free trade…”. Even more so, as recently noted in a Huffington Post article, “for the first time in a long time, both major party nominees [Clinton, Trump, Sanders and Cruz]…are opposed to free trade deals.” Aside from Kasich (who is a vocal proponent of free trade), every candidate has voiced their opposition to past trade deals, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and deals that are still in negotiation, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.

However, as mentioned in our blog post on the candidates’ views on international trade in the context of the February 2016 South Carolina primaries, it is important to note that, largely speaking, many of the candidates “…support fair trade practices and trade policies that reduce harm to U.S. workers.”

Democratic Candidates

Hillary Clinton

Generally, Hillary Clinton favors open markets and free trade, but “…has nixed deals in the past over the finer points, especially worker’ rights.” She has, however, arguably received the most criticism in regards to her changing positions on trade agreements, including NAFTA and the TPP. While she supported NAFTA as first lady when it was signed in 1993, she has since criticized the trade deal. Similarly, while she worked on the TPP as Secretary of State, saying that it “sets the gold standard in trade agreements,” in October of 2015, she opposed the TPP, citing “a number of concerns about currency manipulation and concessions to pharmaceutical companies.”

Bernie Sanders

During the New Hampshire Democratic presidential debate on February 4, 2016, Bernie Sanders expressed that he does not believe in “unfettered free trade,” rather, that he believes “…in fair trade which works for the middle class and working families of [the U.S.] and not just large multinational corporations.” Having said that, he has described the last several decades of U.S. trade policy “—and NAFTA, in particular—as a ‘disastrous’ contributor to the decline of the U.S. middle class, loss of countless jobs, and the undermining of U.S. democracy.” For similar reason, Sanders has strongly opposed the TPP. In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer though, Sanders stated that if he were to be elected president, he would not ignore, but renegotiate the trade deals he has criticized with partner nations, therefore, “[maintaining] the existing deals as he sought to replace them.”

Republican Candidates

Donald Trump

Overall, Donald Trump generally opposes trade deals and favors protectionism, especially when it comes to U.S. trade relations with China and Mexico. He has also claimed that the U.S. has negotiated “horrible” trade deals, including NAFTA. Unlike Sanders, Trump has expressed that he fully intends to break existing trade agreements and “…violate [NAFTA] and World Trade Organization treaties by imposing tariffs that clearly violate the deals,” if elected president. He also strongly opposes the TPP, which he believes will hurt American firms and the U.S.’ competitive advantage.

Ted Cruz

Generally, Ted Cruz appears to support free trade and trade deals. However, like all of the previously profiled candidates, he has expressed his concern over the TPP and his intention to vote against it.

John Kasich

Lastly, John Kasich seems to be the only candidate that has openly declared himself a “free trader.” While he voted for NAFTA and supports the TPP, viewing it as a good deal for the U.S. “not only in terms of economics, but also in terms of foreign policy,” he does not support every trade deal proposed, such as those that could take away American jobs.

Impact on U.S. Trade Policies

 As mentioned earlier, while there seems to be common opposition to free trade deals among the presidential candidates, there is also general support for trade practices and policies that favor American workers and the U.S. economy.

It is important to mention though that it is difficult to oppose or support a single trade deal or policy as definitively bad or good, respectively, as there are winners and losers in every deal or policy. You have to look at the short and long-term existing and potential consequences and benefits. Trade deals and policies are not as clear cut as they may seem to be when they are debated.

One thing is clear though from the campaigns on both sides of the 2016 presidential election: “the next President of the United States will impact the trading partners of America and their respective economies.”

Natalie Hatour is a member of the project support team at the Global Research Institute of International Trade. She earned her Bachelor of Arts at UCLA and a Master of International Business at Hult International Business, San Francisco. She has worked with the U.S. Department of State in Los Angeles, as well as with the U.S. Commercial Service in San Francisco and San Jose. Integrating her professional experiences with her graduate studies, Natalie is passionate about promoting public-private partnerships to expand international business and development opportunities. To learn more about Ms. Hatour, please click here.


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The opinions expressed by guest bloggers do not automatically reflect the views of International Trade Examiner.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

About Dr. Sarita D. Jackson

is the President and CEO of the Global Research Institute of International Trade, a think-tank/consulting firm that examines trade policies and their impact on domestic businesses. Prior to heading GRIIT, Dr. Jackson was a tenured associate professor of political science in North Carolina and worked as a trade policy consultant for an Arlington-based consulting firm. She has participated in trade policy projects and conducted research on free trade negotiations in Botswana, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Panama. Dr. Jackson has also traveled to Chile and Argentina to study their political systems and economic integration policies.
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