Trump, Clinton Trash Trade Deals, But Is That Fair?

Aug 26, 2016


A motorcyclist rides by the former site of the Cambria Iron Company and Bethlehem Steel in Johnstown, Pa. Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have been stumping in cities across Pennsylvania discussing how to bring back jobs to the Keystone state.
Credit Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

On a Friday night in Altoona, the Blair County Convention Center was packed to the rafters with supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. There was an overflow room downstairs and a crowd waiting outside that couldn't get in. Trump discussed everything from ISIS to Supreme Court justices. 

But it was the talk of jobs that got the crowd excited. 

"We are not going to let your jobs leave, folks," Trump said, to a roar of cheers. "We're not going to let it happen. They're not going to Mexico. They're not going anywhere else. 

Like many Pennsylvania cities, Altoona has been on a slow decline for decades. Factories have closed, industry has left, and "The Railroad City" is in Act 47, the state's program for distressed cities.

Trump gave the crowd a clear culprit for this decline: the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, negotiated by President George H.W. Bush and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. It opened the doors to free trade between Mexico, Canada and the United States.

At the rally, Trump called NAFTA "a disaster." He promised to renegotiate the country's trade deals. 

Trade deals or steals?

NAFTA gets badmouthed a lot on the Trump campaign trail. So do other trade deals, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a not-yet-ratified agreement between 12 countries bordering the Pacific Ocean, including the U.S. Trump has also decried the decision to allow China to join the World Trade Organization, saying the country is an unreliable partner and undercuts U.S. manufacturing.

But Trump isn't the only candidate making these arguments. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has distanced herself from NAFTA and reversed her support for the TPP. Her five economic goals include a plan to "crack down on companies that ship jobs and profits overseas," as she put it during a rally in Scranton.  

In Pennsylvania, where both candidates have spent a lot of time, supporters are getting the message: bad times have bad trade deals to blame. 

Find more of this report on the site of our partner, Keystone Crossroads