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Sen. Bernie Sanders discussing his comments about Hillary Clinton's presidential qualifications on NBC's "Meet the Press" with host Chuck Todd on April 10, 2016. (NBC photo) Sen. Bernie Sanders discussing his comments about Hillary Clinton's presidential qualifications on NBC's "Meet the Press" with host Chuck Todd on April 10, 2016. (NBC photo)

Sen. Bernie Sanders discussing his comments about Hillary Clinton's presidential qualifications on NBC's "Meet the Press" with host Chuck Todd on April 10, 2016. (NBC photo)

Linda Qiu
By Linda Qiu April 10, 2016

Clinton voted for 'virtually every' trade agreement, killing millions of jobs, Sanders says

The race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders heated up this week after a rhetorical spat over who was or wasn’t qualified to be president.  

It started when Clinton said Wednesday that Sanders "hadn’t done his homework and he’d been talking for more than a year about doing things that he obviously hadn’t really studied or understood."

Responding to a Washington Post article that cast Clinton’s comments as questioning his qualifications, Sanders shot back, saying Clinton is the one who’s unqualified, upsetting Clinton’s supporters and former president-husband.

The tiff leveled off Friday when Sanders took back his statement and said "of course" Clinton is qualified. But Sunday on Meet the Press, Sanders said his point all along was Clinton lacks good judgment.

"Well, when you vote for virtually every trade agreement that has cost the workers of this country millions of jobs," he said, "when you support and continue to support fracking, despite the crisis that we have in terms of clean water, and essentially, when you have a super PAC that is raising tens of millions of dollars from every special interest out there, including $15 million from Wall Street, the American people do not believe that that is the kind of president that we need to make the changes in America to protect the working families of this country."

There’s a lot to fact-check in this statement, but we were particularly curious about Sanders’ claim that Clinton supported "virtually every trade agreement."

Sanders is exaggerating slightly, but he has a point that Clinton has been largely in favor of free trade. His claim that these deals have cost the country "millions of jobs" is up for debate.

Clinton’s position on free trade

Unlike Sanders’ two decades of consistent opposition to free trade agreement, Clinton has zigzagged through the years.

"Some people are generally pro-trade or anti-trade. She’s case-by-case on trade," Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, told the Washington Post last year.

As first lady, Clinton spoke favorably in the 1990s and in the early 2000s of the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed by President Bill Clinton.

"Creating a free trade zone in North America — the largest free trade zone in the world — would expand U.S. exports, create jobs and ensure that our economy was reaping the benefits, not the burdens, of globalization. Although unpopular with labor unions, expanding trade opportunities was an important administration goal," she wrote in her 2003 memoir, Living History.

As a senator from New York, Clinton had the opportunity to vote on 10 trade deals. She said yes to six and no to the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) and the deal with Andean countries. She skipped the votes on agreements with Jordan and Peru, which came up when she was running for president the first time, but supported both deals.

Clinton explained her seemingly inconsistent positions in a 2005 speech to Congress: "The U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement included internationally recognized enforceable labor standards in the text of the agreement. Sadly, DR-CAFTA is a step backward."

While the deals with Chile, Australia and Singapore similarly excluded labor rights standards, Clinton said she "supported these agreements despite these concerns because I believed the agreements would not harm the average working person in those nations."

However, Clinton (as well as then Rep. Sanders) voted against the Trade Act of 2002, which expanded duty-free exports from Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru and gave President George W. Bush "fast-track authority" to approve trade deals with South American countries.

The Sanders campaign pointed out that Clinton supported normalizing trade relations with China while campaigning for Senate in 2000, and, once elected, she also voted for legislation that included an amendment granting Vietnam normalized trade status. (Sanders voted against both.)

As a presidential candidate in 2008, Clinton had varying opinions on various trade deals, and she changed her position on NAFTA. She called NAFTA "a mistake" and opposed pending deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. She reiterated her support for free trade with Peru on the campaign trail.

"I support the trade agreement with Peru. It has very strong labor and environmental protections. This agreement makes meaningful progress on advancing workers’ rights, and also levels the playing field for American workers," she said in 2007. "The South Korean agreement does not create a level playing field for American carmakers. I am very concerned about the history of violence against trade unionists in Colombia. And as long as the head of Panama's National Assembly is a fugitive from justice in America, I cannot support that agreement."

As secretary of state, Clinton walked back her opposition to deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, and helped negotiate them as well as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. As a presidential candidate in 2016, Clinton has reiterated her opposition to CAFTA and flip-flopped on her support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Voting year

Trade deal

Clinton’s position

Sanders’ position


North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)

Supported in 1990s, against in 2007

Voted against


Trade Act of 2002*

Voted against**

Voted against**


Chile-United States

Voted for

Voted against


Singapore-United States

Voted for

Voted against


Australia-United States

Voted for

Voted against

Featured Fact-check


Morocco-United States

Voted for

Voted against


Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA)

Voted against

Voted against


Bahrain-United States

Voted for***

Voted against


Oman-United States

Voted for

Voted against


Peru-United States

Didn’t vote, supported in 2007

Voted against


Jordan-United States

Didn’t vote, supported in 2005

Voted against


Panama-United States

Against in 2007

Voted against


Colombia-United States

Against in 2007, supported in 2010

Voted against


South Korea-United States

Against in 2007, supported in 2010

Didn’t vote


Trans-Pacific Partnership

Supported in 2010, against in 2015

Voted against**

* This deal is not included in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative’s list of free trade agreements, but contains many free trade provisions.
** This is a vote for "fast track authority" — allowing trade agreement to move through Congress without amendments or filibusters.
*** The free trade agreement with Bahrain passed by unanimous consent, not a recorded roll call vote.

Employment impact unclear

The debate over the impact of trade deals on employment has been waging for decades, and the jury is still out.

On one side, unions and some left-leaning think tanks often link American job losses to expanded trade. Labor advocates opposed the Chile and Singapore agreements, which they said in a 2003 report would kill an unspecified number of jobs.

The liberal Economic Policy Institute has found that NAFTA has cost the United States over 800,000 jobs and the South Korean deal about 60,000. In a 2014 report, the think tank reported that the United States has lost 3.2 million jobs between 2001 and 2013 to trade with China.

Business groups, on the other hand, argue that trade deals actually boost employment. For example, a 2010 report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that the 14 trade deals in place in 2008 supported 5.4 million jobs.

Meanwhile, the U.S-China Business Council and the Financial Times contend that the loss in manufacturing jobs were not due to trade with China so much as gains in technology and productivity, as well as the result of a more sophisticated economy.   

And in a recent fact-check, we found several nonpartisan reports demonstrating that NAFTA produced no significant job losses nor job gains. Analysis by economists at Tufts University and the University of Michigan projected no net impact on employment from the Chile, Singapore and South Korea deals.

Our ruling

Sander said Clinton voted "for virtually every trade agreement that has cost the workers of this country millions of jobs."

Out of the 10 trade deals Clinton could have voted on, she voted in favor of six and against two. On two other deals (with Peru and Jordan), she didn’t vote but did vouch for them.

As for Sanders’ point about subsequent job losses, independent research has shown the impact of NAFTA, for example, to not be significant one way or the other for jobs.

Sanders’ claim is partially accurate and needs additional information. We rate his statement Half True.

Our Sources

NBC, Meet the Press, April 10, 2016

NBC, "After De-Escalation, the Debate Over Clinton's Qualifications Is Revived," April 8, 2016

Email interview with Warren Gunnels, policy director for Bernie Sanders, April 10, 2016

Email interview with Josh Schwerin, spokesman for Hillary Clinton, April 10, 2016

NPR, "A Timeline Of Hillary Clinton's Evolution On Trade," April 21, 2015

Washington Post, "Hillary Clinton’s position on free trade? It’s (very) complicated," June 17, 2015

PolitiFact, "Clinton has changed on NAFTA," Feb. 25, 2008

Sunlight Foundation, "a speech in Congress by Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY)," June 30, 2005

PolitiFact, "A distinction without a difference," April 21, 2008

Los Angeles Times, "Clinton opposes trade pacts, but not all," April 12, 2008

New York Times, "Transcript: Democratic Debate in Las Vegas," Nov. 15, 2007

New York Times, "Clinton Says Yes to Peru Deal," Nov. 8, 2007

State Department, "Passage of Colombia, Panama, and South Korea Trade Agreements," Oct. 13, 2011

International Business Times, "Hillary Clinton Pushes Colombia Free Trade Agreement In Latest Email Dump," Feb. 26, 2016

Reuters, "Obama committed to South Korea trade deal: Clinton, April 16, 2011

Office of the United States Trade Representative, Free Trade Agreements, accessed April 10, 2016

Searches on and

Labor Advisory Committee for Trade Negotiations and Trade Policy, U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, Feb. 28, 2003

Economic Policy Institute, "The effects of NAFTA on US trade, jobs, and investment, 1993-2013," 2013

Economic Policy Institute, U.S.-Korea Trade Deal Resulted in Growing Trade Deficits and Nearly 60,000 Lost Jobs," March 14, 2014

Economic Policy Institute, "Growing U.S. trade deficit with China cost more than 2.7 million jobs between 2001 and 2011, with job losses in every state," Aug. 23, 2012

U.S. Chamber of Commerce, "OPENING MARKETS, CREATING JOBS: Estimated U.S. Employment Effects of Trade with FTA Partners," 2010

U.S.-China Business Council, "USCBC: EPI Study on US Jobs, Trade Deficit, and China Currency is Wrong," Dec. 12, 2014

Financial Times, "In charts: what Donald Trump gets wrong about China and US jobs," March 24, 2016

PolitiFact, "Sanders overshoots on NAFTA job losses," March 7, 2016

Drusilla Brown, Alan Deardorff and Robert Stern, "Multilateral, Regional, and Bilateral Trade-Policy Options for the United States and Japan," Dec. 16, 2002

Congressional Research Service, "Free Trade Agreements: Impact on U.S. Trade and Implications for U.S. Trade Policy," Feb. 26, 2014

Congressional Research Service, "The North American Free Trade Agreement," April 15, 2015

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Clinton voted for 'virtually every' trade agreement, killing millions of jobs, Sanders says

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