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Andrew Gussert, Citizens Trade Campaign

Senator Joseph Biden's voting record on fair trade issues has been pretty strong over the past few years, despite an initial vote for NAFTA fifteen years ago. In December 2007, Biden released a concise statement declaring his opposition to the Peru trade deal:
"I cannot support the Peru Free Trade Agreement because the Bush Administration has not proven that it will effectively enforce labor and environmental provisions, however good they may be. Our economy is slowing down, and Americans don't trust this administration to protect their jobs, or the safety of our imports.
"Americans understand that this Administration does not have a plan to win in the new international economy. This is not the time to endorse its approach to trade deals.
There's a telling 8 minute "You Tube" Video of Presidential Candidate Biden talking about trade issues in response to questioning from a neocon academic weenie in New Hampshire in December 17th, 2007.

He gives a strong message of real enforcement, with many great fair trade quotes. "I used to be a free trader, but have moved to being a fair trader because this administration does not enforce regulations . . . . Just apply the rules that apply to us." Also: "They need our market more than we need their T-Bills." Some downsides: "NAFTA created more jobs for us than we lost, but . . . we need free and fair trade."

His Voting Record:

Since the beginning of the Bush administration, Biden has cast several important votes against the free trade
status quo model, including opposition to CAFTA:

  • 2003: voted against Singapore FTA
  • 2003: voted against Chile FTA
  • 2005: voted against Dominican DR-CAFTA
  • 2006: voted against Oman FTA

It's worth noting some earlier votes put him in the free trade camp:

  • 1993: voted in favor of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
  • 1994: voted in favor of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act.
  • 1998: voted in favor of Fast-Track Trade Authority.
  • 2000: voted in favor the African Growth and Opportunity Act/Caribbean Basin Initiative Bill
  • 2000: voted to approve Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China
  • 2004: voted for Australia FTA
  • 2004: voted for Morocco FTA

He has an 85% favorable
rating from the AFL-CIO. Cato gave him a 42% rating
based on trade issues alone. More details below.

Recent news stories:

The Biden Economy: What Obama's VP Pick Means for Wall Street
August 25, 2008, 12:25 pm

Toeing Obama's line on Nafta: In a debate broadcast on National Public Radio in December, Biden said, "the thing I'm most unsure about, is how you rationalize competition and trade policy. I think that's the single most difficult challenge that I will have as president." More recently, Biden has supported Obama's view that the North American Free Trade Agreement - which governs $810 billion in trade�Vshould be renegotiated along more favorable lines for the U.S.

Biden is a running mate with useful strengths

Biden's foreign policy expertise has not included a high priority for Canada. He supported the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but now says it needs better labour standards and environmental protections, two concerns focused much more on Mexico than on Canada. Democrats do tend to be more protectionist than Republicans, but remember last spring's NAFTA slapstick: Both Hillary Clinton and Obama talked tough on NAFTA but sent back-channel messages to Canada that they didn't mean it. We can't so far see much to fear from the Obama-Biden ticket.

Obama-Biden team could bring Canada-US trade back on front burner
The Canadian Press, DENVER - Aug 23, 2008

While the 65-year-old Biden supported NAFTA in the 1990s, he now agrees with Obama that the trade pact needs to be amended.

More Details: Background on Joe Biden and Trade

Opposes fast-track to protect labor rights

Defend Workers in Trade Negotiations: Joe Biden believes that US trade negotiations must protect American workers by insisting on basic labor and environmental standards. That's why he opposed CAFTA and fast track authority for President Bush. He will continue to fight for better labor and environmental standards in trade agreements and will oppose new trade agreements that don't meet high standards.
Source: Campaign website,, "Issues" Nov 22, 2007

No to tariffs; just enforce the law

Q: Would you call for tariffs to protect American consumers from unsafe products from China? Are you willing to go there?
A: I'm not. No, I'm not willing to go there. You don't need to start a tariff war. All you have to do is enforce the law. Enforce the law.
Source: 2007 Des Moines Register Democratic debate Dec 13, 2007

Built environmental and labor standards in trade agreements

Every new trade agreement should have built into it what we all talk about. Environmental standards and labor standards. But we talk about it in terms of preserving jobs here, but it's also about human rights. Signing an agreement knowing they're going to exploit workers either by polluting their lungs or their drinking water and/or putting them in a position where they're getting paid a couple bucks a week. So it should be a condition to every trade agreement that we engage in.
Source: 2007 Des Moines Register Democratic Debate Dec 13, 2007

Toughest choice: rationalizing competition & trade policy

Q: What do you think the toughest choice you have left to make is? What haven't you made up your mind on yet? And why haven't you?
A: I know exactly what I'd do in those foreign policy issues. But quite frankly, I think that the toughest choice for me, the thing I'm most unsure about, is how you rationalize competition and trade policy. I think that's the single most difficult challenge that I will have as president.
Source: 2007 Democratic radio debate on NPR Dec 4, 2007

Shut down any imports of toys from China

If I were president, I'd shut down any imports from China, period, in terms of their toys -- flat shut it down. Imagine if this was Morocco selling us these toys, we would have shut it down a year ago. They have mortgage on our house because Bush mortgaged us to a $1 trillion to them. He is responsible for this. This is outrageous.
Source: 2007 Democratic debate at Drexel University Oct 30, 2007

President's job is to create jobs, not to export jobs

Q: Would you scrap NAFTA or fix it?
A: A president's job is to create jobs, not to export jobs, and the idea that we are not willing to take the prime minister of Canada and the president of Mexico to the mat to make this agreement work is just a lack of presidential leadership. I would lead, I would do that, I would change it.
Source: 2007 AFL-CIO Democratic primary forum Aug 7, 2007

No trade agreements without workers' & environmental rights

Q: What would you do to address the issues of unfair trade and the related global issue of unfair labor practices?
A: Obviously, no trade agreements that do not include workers' rights and environmental rights. But getting right to it, it seems to me that we have an incredible opportunity here to reassert America's dominance in the world economic system, and that is by significantly investing in a health care policy that takes the burden off of employers.
Source: 2007 NAACP Presidential Primary Forum Jul 12, 2007

Voted YES on granting normal trade relations status to Vietnam.

Vote to grant annual normal trade relations status to Vietnam. The resolution would allow Vietnamese imports to receive the same tariffs as those of other U.S. trading partners.
Reference: Bill HJRES51 ; vote number 2001-291 on Oct 3, 2001

Voted YES on removing common goods from national security export rules.

Vote to provide the president the authority to control the export of sensitive dual-use items for national security purposes. The bill would eliminate restrictions on the export of technology that is readily available in foreign markets.
Reference: Bill S149 ; vote number 2001-275 on Sep 6, 2001

Voted YES on permanent normal trade relations with China.

Vote to give permanent Normal Trade Relations [NTR] status to China. Currently, NTR status for China is debated and voted on annually.
Reference: Bill HR.4444 ; vote number 2000-251 on Sep 19, 2000

Voted YES on expanding trade to the third world.
Vote to expand trade with more than 70 countries in Africa, Central America and the Caribbean. The countries would be required to meet certain eligibility requirements in protecting freedoms of expression and association.
Reference: Bill HR.434 ; vote number 2000-98 on May 11, 2000

Voted YES on renewing 'fast track' presidential trade authority.

Vote to proceed to the bill which establishes negotiating objectives for trade agreements, and renews 'fast track' trade authority for the President, which allows Congress to adopt or to reject a proposed trade agreement, but not to amend it.
Reference: Bill S 1269 ; vote number 1997-294 on Nov 5, 1997

Voted YES on imposing trade sanctions on Japan for closed market.

Resolution supporting sanctions on Japanese products if car parts markets don't open up; and seeking sharp reductions in the trade imbalances in car sales and parts through elimination of restrictive Japanese market-closing practices.
Reference: Bill S Res 118 ; vote number 1995-158 on May 9, 1995