Free trade campaign weapon for US presidential candidates

Washington, March 14 (IANS) Amid a domestic controversy on free trade, US presidential candidates of both Democrats and the Republicans have been publicly opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact to woo voters, utilising the issue to gain political interests for themselves.

“The rhetoric of the 2016 presidential campaign has effectively weaponised free trade,” US political news organisation Politico said in an article.

During a campaign event in Youngstown, Ohio, on Saturday, Hillary Clinton said she supports tougher trade rules regarding the auto industry, criticising auto provisions in the 12-nation TPP pact, Xinhua reported.

Clinton’s hard stance aims to prevent Democratic rival Bernie Sanders, a sharp trade critic, from winning over more voters in the coming primaries, with the next one to be held on Tuesday in Ohio.

The announcement is a step toward strengthening her position on trade issues following Clinton’s loss in Michigan last week, which may have been driven by Sanders’ anti-trade message, the Washington Post said in an article.

Clinton has been fiercely criticised by Sanders over her past support of trade deals, including the TPP pact, a deal she once advocated as secretary of state, and the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) signed in the 1990s, when her husband was president.

Deals such as NAFTA have been blamed for massive job losses in states like Ohio, which is regarded as a key industrial state.

That’s why candidates of both parties have been anxiously taking on the free trade issue, using it as a powerful weapon against each other.

Sanders criticised free trade as a proxy for corporate greed, while Donald Trump, the billionaire Republican front-runner, said such deals serve politicians who put the interests of corporate contributors over those of ordinary Americans.

“Trade deals are absolutely killing our country,” Trump said during Thursday night’s GOP debate in Florida.

The business tycoon has been fervently opposing the TPP pact to win support from working-class voters who are not fans of globalisation, the Politico article said.

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