McCain praises NAFTA on Canadian trip

Fri Jun 20, 2008 10:22pm 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 soften his earlier remarks on NAFTA in an interview this week with Fortune magazine and in a Jacksonville news conference when he said the rhetoric during the campaign had gotten "overheated."

"I'm not a big believer in doing things unilaterally," Obama told Fortune.   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>