Politics & Government

In Senate race, Burr and Ross clash over trade deal they both oppose

North Carolina Democratic Senate candidate Deborah Ross speaks to the crowd before speaking at a campaign rally for Hillary Clinton in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, July 5, 2016. U.S. Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina is criticizing his Democratic challenger, Deborah Ross, saying she has failed to make clear her position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership – a trade deal that critics say could add hurt North Carolina communities already damaged by the North American Free Trade Agreement.
North Carolina Democratic Senate candidate Deborah Ross speaks to the crowd before speaking at a campaign rally for Hillary Clinton in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, July 5, 2016. U.S. Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina is criticizing his Democratic challenger, Deborah Ross, saying she has failed to make clear her position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership – a trade deal that critics say could add hurt North Carolina communities already damaged by the North American Free Trade Agreement. AP

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr is criticizing his Democratic challenger, Deborah Ross, saying she has failed to make clear her position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership – a trade deal that critics say could add hurt North Carolina communities already damaged by the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a trade deal involving the United States, Canada, Mexico, and nine other Pacific Rim countries that aims to strengthen economic ties between the nations by reducing tariffs and promoting trade. The deal has been finalized but not ratified.

The Republican Burr attacked Ross in a Aug. 12 tweet that asked why she hadn’t spoken out against TPP. North Carolina sustained job losses in the aftermath of the NAFTA agreement and its residents are now caught in the crosscurrents of politics and big trade deals, said Ferrel Guillory, adjunct faculty member in University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Department of Public Policy.

Its residents with a stake in the textile and furniture industry suffered greatly in the recession of 2008, Guillory said.

“There are people here in economic distress who see a lot of reason to blame international trade deals as part of that,” he said.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership “is a bad deal for America and especially North Carolina,” Burr, the Republican incumbent, said in an email Wednesday.

“Trade agreements should be fair, but TPP does not include any enforceable provisions to address currency manipulation, which has put American workers at a disadvantage to countries that do not play by the rules,” he said. “TPP does not adequately protect the intellectual property rights of U.S. companies, and doesn’t let all of North Carolina’s agricultural products take full advantage of the benefits a trade agreement should offer. This deal is a raw deal for North Carolina, and I will do what I can to defeat it.”

There are people here in economic distress who see a lot of reason to blame international trade deals as part of that.

Ferrel Guillory of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Department of Public Policy

Ross, a former state representative, has not made the trade deal a key point in her campaign but said she opposes TPP.

“I have always said that I am against TPP,” she said. “We need to protect American workers and we need to stop trade agreements. It hurts the middle class.”

Ross stated in a response to a questionnaire in Indy Week for the March primary that she was against the TPP.

“North Carolina has seen too many jobs get shipped overseas because of trade deals that didn’t work for us, and the TPP deal doesn’t do enough to protect North Carolina workers or the world’s environment,” she said in the response to the questionnaire.

Burr decided to go after her only because he wanted “to mislead the public about his record on trade,” she said.

“He voted for NAFTA,” she said. “He voted for CAFTA. He told people he wasn’t going to vote for trade deals, and he did.”

Burr supported NAFTA in the early 1990s, but he told a reporter in 2004 that his “assessment was wrong.” He also voted for CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, in 2005 after working with the state’s textile industry to make changes in the legislation. Former Burr campaign spokeswoman Samantha Smith said he voted more than a dozen times against Most Favored Nation status and other trade agreements with China.

Ross also criticized Burr for supporting the fast-tracking of trade deals. Burr voted last year to pass the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, which allows the president to fast-track trade deals by restricting Congress to either approve the deals or vote against them. Lawmakers would not be able to amend those deals.

This fast-track process would make it possible for the president to speed up negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Burr spokesperson Taylor Holgate defended the vote in an email to The Charlotte Observer.

“This was passed before Obama had signed the TPP and the details of the deal were shared,” Holgate wrote. “The TPA legislation requires the administration to meet certain objectives when negotiating trade agreements, requires additional transparency measures, and also enables both Houses of Congress to revoke expedited procedures if the objectives are not met.”

Maggie Ybarra, 202-383-6048, @MolotovFlicker

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