McCain to discuss free trade in Canada

Republican presidential candidate John McCain will take his free-trade message to Canada next week, reinforcing his stance on a divisive election issue.

McCain, an avowed free-trader, is to speak to the Economic Club of Canada in Ottawa on June 20. McCain has criticized his Democratic rival, Barack Obama, for saying he would renegotiate the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, which is credited for record exports by Republicans but blamed for job losses by many Democrats.

“You know what message that sends? That no agreement is sacred to him,” McCain said Thursday in Boston.

Neither McCain nor his staff would confirm his travel plans, though he is said to be considering other trips abroad.

Trade is a powerful election-year issue, particularly in industrial states that have sustained job losses. McCain has argued that expanded training and educational programs would help workers who are displaced from their jobs because of global trade.

McCain has also been making a vigorous pitch for Congress to pass a new trade deal with Colombia, an agreement Obama opposes. The House has blocked a vote on that pact, citing continued violence against organized labor in the country and differences with the Bush administration over how to assist U.S. workers displaced by foreign competition.

McCain on Thursday said the fate of the Colombian agreement goes beyond trade.

“It is an affirmation or a rejection of the cooperation, friendship and enormous support that the Colombian government and people have given us in trying to stem the flow of illegal drugs into the United States of America,” he said.

Obama and Hillary Clinton both criticized NAFTA during their primary campaign. Obama questioned whether Clinton had always opposed NAFTA. And he faced criticism himself over the leak of a Canadian memo suggesting an adviser told Canadian officials not to take Obama's campaign rhetoric against NAFTA too seriously.

The adviser, Austan Goolsbee, said his words were misrepresented.