McCain promotes NAFTA in Canadian trip

Fri Jun 20, 2008 6:42pm EDT
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By Jeff Mason

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Republican John McCain defended the North American Free Trade Agreement in Canada on Friday during an unusual foreign trip as a U.S. presidential candidate to draw a contrast with Barack Obama, his Democratic rival in the November election.

McCain, an Arizona senator who has wrapped up his party's White House nomination, said the trip was not a political one and declined to mention Obama by name during remarks before a group of Canadian business leaders and policy makers.

But his comments clearly took aim at the Illinois senator for suggesting the United States could opt out of NAFTA if Canada and Mexico did not agree to revise the pact's labor and environmental provisions.

"Demanding unilateral changes and threatening to abrogate an agreement that has increased trade and prosperity is nothing more than retreating behind protectionist walls," McCain said.

"If I am elected president, have no doubt that America will honor its international commitments -- and we will expect the same of others."

Trade is one of several issues that has come to the forefront of the U.S. presidential campaign as Americans worry about the sluggish U.S. economy and rising fuel costs.

Obama appeared to back away somewhat from his earlier remarks in an interview with Fortune magazine released this week. "Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified," he said in the interview. "I'm not a big believer in doing things unilaterally."

"I believe in free trade. I think that all countries can prosper as a consequence of free trade," Obama told reporters in Jacksonville, Florida on Friday, adding he also thought the United States could be a better negotiator on behalf of American workers and for environmental standards.   Continued...

<p>Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain laughs before delivering a speech to the Economic Club of Canada in Ottawa June 20, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>