NAFTA foes have hope for Obama renegotiation

Wed Feb 18, 2009 5:01pm EST
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By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Critics of the North American Free Trade Agreement say they do not expect President Barack Obama to return from a trip to Canada on Thursday with a blueprint to fulfill his promise to renegotiate the pact.

But they do hope for action later this year after Obama has consulted with key members of Congress on goals for reshaping the 15-year-old trade deal.

"You can't campaign ... repeatedly about how you are going to fix NAFTA and otherwise reform U.S. trade and globalization policy and then not do it," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. "Everyone's going to be watching to see that he delivers on those promises."

While NAFTA is on the agenda for the one-day visit with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Canadian lawmakers, the short get-acquainted sessions will allow little time for detailed discussion, Wallach said.

Three-way trade between the United States, Mexico and Canada has tripled to nearly $1 trillion since NAFTA went into force in 1994, and together Canada and Mexico buy more than one-third of U.S. exports.

But the agreement is often blamed for U.S. job losses, especially in big Midwestern manufacturing states.

Obama and his chief Democratic rival during last year's presidential campaign -- current U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- rattled both Canada and Mexico with their sometimes intense criticism of NAFTA.

During a debate in Ohio in March, both said they would use the threat of withdrawing from the agreement if Mexico and Canada did not agree to modify the pact.   Continued...