Hillary Rodham Clinton promised to take a close look at foreign trade agreements if she won the White House to see if the deals are draining jobs from the U.S.
"I am going to do everything I can to move toward smart trade," said Clinton. She promised to appoint an official to ensure that trade agreement provisions designed to protect labor and environmental standards are enforced by groups such as the World Trade Organization and the International Labor Organization.
"I want to, if we're going to be trading, to lift everybody up," she said. "That's going to take presidential leadership to change the rules around the world."
Clinton spoke to about 250 delegates at a regional conference of the United Auto Workers, dealing with an issue that was a sore subject between labor leaders and her husband during his presidency. Former President Bill Clinton pushed to approve pacts such as the North American Free Trade Agreement over the bitter objections of labor leaders, who complained the deals would and put U.S. workers in competition with cheap foreign labor.
"When I'm president we'll have a time out to take stock of where we are on trade," said Clinton, a senator from New York. "Every trade agreement has to be independently, objectively analyzed."
Despite their differences on trade, the former president maintained cordial, relations with labor, and Sen. Clinton told the activists they fared pretty well during her husband's tenure in office.
"We've had a Republican president and a Republican Congress that didn't get it and didn't care," she said. "We actually grew manufacturing jobs in the 1990s."
She also said she would continue to push for tougher fuel efficiency standards for autos, regulations that both the auto industry and UAW have been leery of. She warned of the long term consequences of dependence on foreign oil.
"It's bad for the country, it's bad for the auto industry and it's bad for the UAW," said Clinton. "If we continue to be held hostages by these regimes, we will not recognize our country."
Clinton also made a pitch to labor leaders about her ability to win back the White House, something she argued they need to watch closely as they make decisions.
"One thing the Republicans know about me and my husband is we know how to beat them," said Clinton.
She was wrapping up a two-day swing in Iowa where precinct caucuses this winter will open the presidential nominating season, and where she holds a fragile lead over rivals Barack Obama and John Edwards. Unions play an important role in the politics of those caucuses.
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