Fear that President Barack Obama will backslide on America’s free trade commitments is misplaced—in fact, he may eventually expand America’s commitment to liberalization. His pledge to revisit the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) amidst an economic slump was one of his most widely discussed policy positions of the campaign season.
The economy—and, notably, unemployment—has gotten far worse since Obama derived political benefit from making the rhetorical connection between trade and job loss. Obama could use the magic policy window of his first 100 days to push through controversial but politically plausible anti-free trade measures. He will not do so—and if he does not do it now, he is unlikely to revisit it later.
If Obama is ever going to pound away at NAFTA it would in coming weeks. He is pushing this month for a comprehensive approach to saving or creating up to 4 million jobs in two years. If there was any real desire to rework NAFTA because it was thought responsible for job loss, it would make sense to address it now.
But Obama is unlikely to seek substantive change to NAFTA now or in the future because he recognizes the benefits of the agreement and knows that the U.S. has little room to maneuver in terms of renegotiation.