Hillary Clinton responded this week to a candidate questionnaire from the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign (OFTC) on international trade and trade deals. She re-iterated her opposition to the TPP and to holding a vote in the lame duck session.
Many folks, including Hillary's own supporters, do not trust her to stay firm against trade deals. Her past support for NAFTA and the South Korea agreement, both of which were economic debacles, is one reason for the distrust. Her past public marketing of the TPP is another reason.
Here are some of the words she used to describe the TPP before she left the State Department in 2013: "exciting," "innovative," "ambitious," "groundbreaking," "cutting-edge," "high-quality," "high-standard" and "gold standard."
Candidates Clinton and Obama supported legislation to counter currency manipulation in 2008, but President Obama later reversed course and Secretary of State Clinton said nothing.
OFTC did a great service submitting and receiving an answer to their questionnaire. The Clinton campaign responses were pretty solid but can be interpreted to preserve some lawyerly wiggle room.
OFTC asked "Do you believe the rules that govern international trade should reflect the views and needs of working people on issues such as jobs, wages, the environment, human rights, consumer safety and access to medicine?". Clinton responded that she will make sure that her approach to trade would deal with those issues. That is good. But Obama says that the TPP does deal with them.
Clinton also reiterated her three part test for a trade deal to earn her support. "it must (1) create American jobs, (2) raise wages, and (3) improve our national security." Again Obama says that the TPP will do that. Clinton has previously said that the TPP will create jobs.
When OFTC asked whether Clinton believes the TPP should be approved, the response was: "I will say “no” to new trade agreements unless they create American jobs, raise wages, and improve our national security. After looking at the final terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, including the need to do more on currency manipulation and its weak rules of origin standard for what counts as a car that can get treaty benefits, I opposed the agreement because it did not meet my test."
She did not say that TPP would not "create jobs" or that it would not "raise wages" or that it would not "improve national security." She relied on rules of origin for cars. This room for reversal is large.
When OFTC asked whether the TPP should include binding safeguards against currency manipulation, Clinton said "One of the reasons I opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement was my concern that we need to do more to address currency manipulation." She did not say that the TPP deal itself should have binding safeguards against currency manipulation. Again too lawyerly. It leaves room to have a TPP without effective currency enforcement.
On the issue of Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), her response seems better: "With respect to the flawed Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions in TPP—which I wrote about in my book—I think we need to have a new paradigm for trade agreements that doesn’t give special rights to corporations that workers and NGOs don’t get."
Clinton was silent on the core economics issue - balanced trade and trade deficits. She never cites trade deficits as a problem in this OFTC response or anywhere else... unless I missed it, and I don't think I have missed it.
Balanced trade as a fundamental trade policy goal refocuses the US on a basic core metric for success. We can't, on net, grow jobs, industry and the economy until we determine that the trade deficit is a problem that must be eliminated.