Hillary Clinton Has 1 Day to Take a Serious Stand on One of the Biggest Corporate Trade Deals in US History


The Democratic Party is now in an all-out war over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), with labor unions, environmentalists, and other public interest groups opposed to fast tracking the deal – which would allow it to have a vote with no amendments -- battling corporations and President Obama who are for fast track. The big vote on TPP in the US Senate is on Tuesday.

One voice who has been silent in this internecine conflict is Hillary Clinton. Clinton has refused to say whether she supports granting Obama fast track authority, let alone whether she supports the overall agreement. Her campaign chairman, John Podesta, recently joked to some donors that he wishes the deal would just “go away.” She has basically one day to come out and show where she stands on this issue and influence the outcome of the vote.

Secretary Clinton wasn't always so shy about talking about where she really stands on trade agreements. In 1997, her husband then-President Bill Clinton attempted to gain fast track authority to normalize trade relations with China. He failed.

The following year, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton spoke at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland – the home of the “Masters of the Universe,” the world's economic elites.  

At one point, the topic of fast tracking trade with China arose, and Clinton acted as though she furious with corporate elites – not for pushing too hard for trade, but for not pushing hard enough. She lashed out at the “unusual alliance” between Republicans and Democrats that blocked fast track, and demanded that corporations increase their lobbying to pass it in the near future – like they did the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Here's a transcript from the archived Clinton White House website:

SCHWAB: In the same context, the fast-track trade legislation is very much at the top of the priorities of your husbands administration. What can you say also to the business community here to give the active and effective support for this legislative measure?

CLINTON: Well, I would probably just echo what I already said, at the risk of being repetitive. There was a very effective business effort in the United States on behalf of NAFTA. There was a very limited and ineffective effort on behalf of fast track. I don't know all the reasons for that. Some of them suggested, but I have no basis for any first-hand knowledge or any analysis that I find convincing. The bottom line is, however, that no one in Congress felt any particular pressure, or demand, by any business interest about giving the President the authority that other presidents have had to negotiate trade agreements.

Now again, I have to conclude that either American business doesn't care about opening markets around the world -- but I find that very hard to believe -- or they feel that their involvement in politics is something that they wish to minimize or steer clear of and don't want to become participants in any effort to pass such legislation, or some other reason that I have yet to understand. But the effect was the same. For whatever reason, the fact that the American business community made a very limited effort on behalf of the fast track, left the field completely clear to the rather unusual alliance between the right of the Republican party which is isolationist, anti-American engagement, quite critical and not supportive of the United Nations, IMF or any multilateral group, and the left of the Democratic party that believes that trade authority, and trade agreements are not in the interests of American workers. So that alliance carried the day. Now when the President comes back to the Congress with a request for fast track authority I hope that American business voices will be heard.

Having said that, I would add that there does need to be sensitivity to worker and environmental concerns in trade agreements going forward in the future. Certainly if they are going to be agreements that are negotiated with the United States government and require the consent of the United States Congress. So I think that there may be some good reason for business to engage early with labor and with political leadership in Congress and the Administration to try to hammer out a consensus about the kind of fast track authority and the sort of agreements that we want our President to be negotiating. But certainly that will not happen in the absence of some very stated and obvious business concern.

Corporations took Clinton's advice. A year and a half later, Congress approved Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China (although not through a fast track mechanism). The vote was the result of an enormous lobbying effort by Corporate America, the one Hillary Clinton had urged at Davos.

Ironically, one of the arguments the Obama administration is using today to pass TPP is that we must do so that we can compete with China's sphere of influence – a sphere of influence the Clintons expanded by passing normalized trade relations with China, by calling on the very same corporations who support TPP to support that previous effort. Perhaps this is one issue where Hillary Clinton – in a departure from her flip-flops on immigration or crime – is actually staying consistent, by being silent.

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