Bernie Sanders is an economic nationalist, like Donald Trump. But while Trump complains about how other countries are taking advantage of the United States. Sanders talks about how international corporations are taking advantage of working people (to be sure, with China’s help).
He said he has voted against every trade treaty that came before Congress during his tenure in the House and Senate, and said that, if elected President, he would rescind them all. Like Trump, he opposes the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.
His opposition is fully justified, in my opinion. The World Trade Treaty, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and similar agreements limit the ability of national governments to regulate foreign corporations, and give these corporations equal standing with supposedly sovereign governments.
These agreements are not what I would call free trade, but Sanders is not for free trade either. He says he is for “fair trade,” which I take to mean a fair balance of trade with other nations. Unlike Trump, he does not say anything about imposing new tariffs and restrictions on imports.
In Congress, he supported Buy American policies by the federal government. He voted for legislation to periodically review trade agreements with countries with undemocratic forms of government and which violate human rights and labor rights.
He favors certain domestic policies, such as investment in infrastructure and higher education, that would, in my opinion, make the United States a stronger and more productive nation. He favors government investment in renewable energy with the long-range goal of reducing oil imports.
What he mostly talks about is rejecting bad trade agreements. I think that is justified, but I don’t think bad treaties are the main reason for the outflow of American jobs.
What Ross Perot called “the giant sucking sound” was heard before those treaties were enacted. It’s not as if there was anything in place to prevent manufacturing companies from relocating to low-wage countries and, while Sanders deplores this, he is vague on exactly how to prevent it. I don’t see how, in the short run, anybody could.
Overall I think Sanders’ positions on trade issues reflect generous instincts. He has the merit of wanting to break the lock of multinational corporations on trade policy without advocating mutually destructive trade wars. I think a Sanders policy would be better than what we have now.
Bernie Sanders on Trade Policy from Feel the Bern.
Bernie Sanders on Free Trade from On the Issues.
Bernie Sanders Voting Record on Trade from VoteSmart.