In a cross-border political attack, John McCain said Friday that Barack Obama's opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement is “nothing more than retreating behind protectionist walls.”
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee added that if he wins the White House, “have no doubt that America will honor its international commitments – and we will expect the same of others.”
McCain did not mention Obama by name as he spoke before the Economic Club of Canada, a business organization whose membership cheered his remarks.
His trip to Canada was unusual if not unprecedented for a presidential candidate, one that his campaign paid for yet aides insisted was not political.
Democrats criticized plans for a scheduled $100-per-person “finance event” and raised questions about U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins' involvement in the trip. McCain's aides said Wilkins had done nothing wrong. They also countered that the money was to pay the cost of the Economic Club luncheon – then canceled the event without explanation.
The free trade agreement is supported by most businesses, opposed by many unions – and has already emerged as a flash point in the presidential race.
McCain supports it, while Obama and former rival Hillary Clinton vied for support among blue-collar workers in the Democratic primaries by stressing their desire to force changes.
“Since NAFTA was concluded, it has contributed to strong job growth and flourishing trade. Since the agreement was signed, the United States has added 25 million jobs and Canada more than 4 million,” McCain said.
In an unmistakable reference to Obama, he added, “Demanding unilateral changes and threatening to abrogate an agreement that has increased trade and prosperity is nothing more than retreating behind protectionist walls.”
Offshore drilling debate
Obama, meanwhile, dismissed a proposal McCain has backed to allow offshore drilling. Obama said it was an election-year conversion, arguing that it will not lower gas prices for families “this year, next year, five years from now.”
Obama pledged to keep in place the federal government's 27-year moratorium on offshore drilling and criticized McCain on changing his position on the matter.
In McCain's 2000 campaign, the Republican said he favored the moratorium. This week, he said he supports lifting it to give states the option to drill, and cited as a reason alleviating the pressure on consumers facing high gas prices.
McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds responded that Obama is rejecting measures needed to lower gas prices. “The American people cannot afford Barack Obama's do-nothing, out-of-touch energy policy,” Bounds said.
Obama asserted that opening up the U.S. coastline to oil exploration would not give Americans any short-term appreciable savings.