US Elections 2016

Trump steps up attacks on free trade deals

Mr Trump continues to tap into anti-establishment feelings among voters. His latest target was the US Chamber of Commerce, which he says is "controlled by special interest groups that don't care" about people.
Mr Trump continues to tap into anti-establishment feelings among voters. His latest target was the US Chamber of Commerce, which he says is "controlled by special interest groups that don't care" about people.PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGOR (Maine) • Pressing his staunch opposition to trade deals, Mr Donald Trump escalated his attacks on the US Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, saying that it was "totally controlled by the special interest groups".

"They are a special interest that wants to have the deals that they want to have," he told a packed arena at a rally here, to whoops and cheers. "They want to have TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, one of the worst deals, and it will be the worst deal since Nafta."

The remarks criticising the chamber were yet another manifestation of the divide between the Republican economic orthodoxy that embraces all trade, and the nationalistic anti-trade policies Mr Trump laid out in a major speech on Tuesday in a Pittsburgh suburb.

The US Chamber of Commerce is often a strong ally of Republican candidates, spending more than US$35 million (S$47 million) in the 2014 mid-term elections in support of them. But it has also been sharply critical of Mr Trump's views on trade and has frequently posted articles critical of him on its blog, including one on Tuesday night titled The 2013 Trump Was a Lot Better on Trade Than the 2016 Version.

Mr Trump first responded to the group on Twitter on Wednesday, but he escalated the attacks at his rally in Bangor, saying the chamber was "controlled totally by various groups of people that don't care about you whatsoever".

A spokesman for the chamber, Ms Blair Latoff Holmes, defended its position on trade.

"The US chamber represents American businesses of all sizes from across the country, who recognise that free trade agreements, like the TPP, are an important way to accelerate economic growth and spur job creation in the US," she said.

"This is not personal. It is not election politics. It's smart policy."

Mr Trump's remarks on the chamber were the latest in a string of comments that have further divided those in the Republican ranks as he seeks to rally the party behind his campaign after a particularly contentious nominating fight.

Mr Trump said the chamber's argument that his policies would cause a trade war was incorrect because the United States was already at a deficit.

"We are already losing the trade war, we lost the trade war," he said. "Nothing can happen worse than is happening now."

In speeches on Tuesday, Mr Trump called for renegotiating or scrapping Nafta, the North American Free Trade Agreement, calling it a job killer.

Experts have questioned though whether Mr Trump, if elected president, would have the executive authority to repeal Nafta. Experts also point to the millions of jobs dependent on cross-border trade. The agreement entered into force at the start of 1994.

As to whether an American president can unilaterally withdraw from a treaty without Congress being on board, that is a grey area and the US Supreme Court has refused to clarify whether a president can break off a treaty without congressional approval. Former president George W. Bush did just that with the anti-ballistic missile treaty with Russia. However, Nafta does contain a provision that allows a member to withdraw after giving six months' notice.

Separately, Mr Trump condemned the Istanbul airport attack, calling it a tragedy and a disgrace. But while he pledged to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and terrorism, he also professed a dovish foreign policy in an attempt to contrast himself with Mrs Hillary Clinton.

"They say, 'Oh, can we trust Donald with a button?'" Mr Trump said, adding: "I would be the slowest with the button, but I would be the one that doesn't have to use it because they are going to respect us again."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2016, with the headline 'Trump steps up attacks on free trade deals'. Print Edition | Subscribe