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Transatlantic Trade

DW staff (jg)March 27, 2008

US Republican presidential contender John McCain has spoken out in favor of a free trade deal with the European Union, building on the North American Free Trade Agreement.

John McCain and his wife Cindy at an election event
McCain is reaching out across the Atlantic againImage: AP

The senator for Arizona has been keen to underscore his anti-protectionist stance in the ongoing election campaign in the United States. He has linked the issue with national security, saying that protectionism would isolate the United States.

McCain expressed his enthusiasm for a huge free trading bloc. "I am an unashamed and unabashed defender of NAFTA. I am an unabashed supporter of free trade agreements. In fact, it would be interesting to have a free trade agreement between ourselves and the European Union," McCain said in a speech to the World Affairs Council on Wednesday, March 26.

"They are one of the largest economic blocs in the world, if not the largest. I think to head a free trade agreement with the European Union would be a great thing to happen," McCain told reporters as he headed for his next campaign event in Monterey, California.

map of NAFTA
The NAFTA free trade deal between Canada, US and Mexico is a US electoral issueImage: AP

The Unites States and the EU already have low tariffs on most of the manufactured goods that cross the Atlantic. Recently, they have also begun an initiative aimed at eliminating regulatory barriers that hamper commerce.

Agriculture has been an obstacle to bilateral trade deal

But both sides have preferred to deal with the tricky agricultural issues within the context of world trade talks, rather than negotiate a bilateral free trade deal to entirely phase out tariffs on each other's farm goods.

At the same time, some members of Congress have called for a services free trade agreement that would reduce or eliminate barriers to trade and investment in areas such as banking, insurance and telecommunications.

The issue of foreign trade is an emotive issue in the United States particularly in Democratic heartlands, such as the rust belt of the United States where cheap imports have been blamed for the region's economic woes and in farming communities.

All just electoral maneuvering?

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama
Both Clinton and Obama have taken a more cautious tack on free tradeImage: AP

Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have threatened to withdraw from NAFTA if Mexico and Canada do not agree to renegotiate the pact and include stronger labor and environmental provisions. Clinton has also said she would introduce "time-out" from new free trade agreements if elected president.

In an allusion to his opponents' stance, McCain drew attention to the fact that some EU environmental standards and labor standards were higher than US requirements and added that it would be interesting to see how free trade opponents would react to that.

The Republican candidate has shown himself eager to play up his pro-European credentials with a transatlantic trip to Paris and London earlier this month. Some observers have, however, have raised doubts about his intentions, with some suggesting McCain's European drive is designed to serve a domestic purpose.