As the 2008 election has heated up, and George Bush’s approval rating has continued to drop, John McCain has been on the lookout for ways to differentiate himself from the president. Seems like he’s finally found the issue: international labor and environmental standards. Bush likes them and McCain doesn’t.
On May 10, 2007, President Bush reached an agreement with Congressional trade committee leaders on specific stipulations for any future international trade deal signed by the United States. With particular emphasis on strengthening labor and environmental standards, this announcement showed the first step in bipartisan agreement in US trade policy. Under the new regulations:
— Free trade agreement countries would be committed to adopting and enforcing laws that abide by basic international labor standards, such as child labor, the right to collective bargaining and the elimination of employment discrimination
— Countries that reach trade agreements with the United States would have to adopt and enforce laws that are in line with seven major multilateral environmental agreements.
— The US would have full, non-challengeable authority to prevent foreign companies from operating U.S. ports, based on national security concerns.
John McCain, however, has a very different stance on these types of standards. He doesn’t believe in them at all:
McCain would reject the use of labor and environmental issues to block trade, said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, McCain’s chief economic policy adviser. His preference would be to monitor trading partners in order to determine if they are improving their standards, he believes this approach would be far more effective than requiring labor and environmental standards in trade agreements.
McCain’s rhetoric on labor and environmental standards extends into his long Senate voting record, as well. In the deeply contested 2000-2001 debate on China’s accession into the World Trade Organization, McCain repeatedly voted down measures forcing China to change their policies towards civil and humanitarian rights before gaining acceptance into the WTO. During the 2002 debate on presidential fast track authority, McCain’s votes were no different — he repeatedly voted against establishing labor standards in trade deals negotiated by the president:
I don’t believe in walls. I believe in freedom. If I were president, I would negotiate a free trade agreement with almost any country willing to negotiate fairly with us. Only risks to the security of our vital interests or egregious offenses to our most cherished political values should disqualify a nation from entering into a free trade agreement with us.
Kudos to McCain for finally finding an issue that separates him from the president. Unfortunately for his campaign, however, he picked one of the thing that he should be following Bush’s lead.
UPDATE: McCain seems to have divorced himself from his own position. In his May 12, 2008 speech on global warming, McCain said:
We will apply the same environmental standards to industries in China, India, and elsewhere that we apply to our own industries.
Or does McCain intend to lower the environmental standards of the United States to those of China and India?