"Obama said he would unilaterally renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement."
John McCain on Wednesday, October 15th, 2008 in Hempstead, N.Y.
Obama's been critical of NAFTA
During a discussion of climate change and energy imports during the third presidential debate, Sen. John McCain detoured briefly to Canada.
McCain attacked Sen. Barack Obama's position on the North American Free Trade Agreement. Here's his claim in context:
"I think we can, for all intents and purposes, eliminate our dependence on Middle Eastern oil and Venezuelan oil. Canadian oil is fine," McCain said during the Oct. 15, 2008, debate. "By the way, when Senator Obama said he would unilaterally renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Canadians said, 'Yes, and we'll sell our oil to China.' You don't tell countries you're going to unilaterally renegotiate agreements with them."
What we take McCain's claim to mean is that Obama said he would renegotiate NAFTA whether or not Canada and Mexico – the other signatories to the trade agreement – want to do so, or renegotiate in such a way as to impose additional burdens on them but not on the United States.
It's true that Obama has been harshly critical of NAFTA on the campaign trail, citing shortfalls in its protections for workers and the environment. He has used words like "devastating" and "a big mistake" to describe the agreement.
Obama was particularly critical of NAFTA in February in the run-up to the Ohio Democratic primary. In a debate, he said, "We should use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage to ensure that we actually get labor and environmental standards that are enforced."
In a June 20, 2008 conference call with reporters, Obama surrogate Sen. Sherrod Brown, the Ohio Democrat, said he was "absolutely confident Barack Obama will reopen the negotiations on NAFTA. I have been assured by him and his top economic advisers there is no question his position is constant and will stay that way on the North American Free Trade Agreement."
But would Obama do so "unilaterally"? In a June interview with Fortune magazine, he indicated he would not.
"I'm not a big believer in doing things unilaterally," he told the magazine of his plans on NAFTA. "I'm a big believer in opening up a dialogue and figuring out how we can make this work for all people."
It's difficult to reconcile these two stands. There's little indication Canada wants to renegotiate the agreement, so it's not clear how Obama would do so without initiating the negotiation "unilaterally."
Perhaps it was a bit misleading for McCain to highlight Obama's harsher rhetoric on NAFTA instead of his softer stance. But only a bit – the fact is, Obama has often spoken of NAFTA in such a way that a fair listener would conclude he would press to renegotiate it regardless of how the other parties feel.
Characterizing that as a "unilateral" renegotiation, though not the clearest language in the world, was a pretty fair shorthand for McCain to use. We find his claim Mostly True.
Published: Wednesday, October 15th, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.
Subjects: Foreign Policy
Associated Press, McCain Scolds Obama, Clinton over NAFTA , March 11, 2008
Fortune, Obama: NAFTA Not So Bad After All, June 18, 2008
Los Angeles Times, McCain Stumps Strategists By Playing Up His Unpopular Position on Free Trade , June 20, 2008
We want to hear your suggestions and comments.
For tips or comments on our Obameter and our GOP-Pledge-O-Meter promise databases, please e-mail the Obameter. If you are commenting on a specific promise, please include the wording of the promise.For comments about our Truth-O-Meter or Flip-O-Meter items, please e-mail the Truth-O-Meter. We’re especially interested in seeing any chain e-mails you receive that you would like us to check out. If you send us a comment, we'll assume you don't mind us publishing it unless you tell us otherwise.
Keep up to date with Politifact:
- Sign up for our e-mail (about once a week)
- Put a free PolitiFact widget on your blog or Web page
- Subscribe to our RSS feeds on Truth-O-Meter items
- Subscribe to our RSS feeds on GOP Pledge-O-Meter items
- Subscribe to our RSS feeds on Obameter items
- Advertise on PolitiFact
- Shop the PolitiFact store for T-shirts, hats and other PolitiFact swag