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Hillary Clinton once called TPP the 'gold standard.' Here's why, and what she says about the trade deal now

Donald Trump has made opposition to multilateral trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership a staple of his case against Hillary Clinton. And he quickly took the conversation there Monday.

He says she supported the former, which the U.S. entered into during her husband’s administration, and the latter, which she helped negotiate as secretary of State.

In fact, Trump argued, Clinton decided to oppose TPP only after she saw the popular response Trump was getting for his position.

But Clinton has maintained she opposes TPP, a position she has been forced to reiterate with greater clarity.

“I will stop any trade deal that kills jobs or holds down wages — including the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” she said at a campaign stop in Ohio in August. “I oppose it now, I’ll oppose it after the election, and I’ll oppose it as president.”

So did Clinton flip on TPP? Context is key.

The deal would be the largest multilateral trade agreement ever negotiated, involving the U.S., emerging economies such as Vietnam and traditional trading partners including Japan, Canada and Mexico. It’s a major priority for the Obama administration, which sees the deal as key to cementing the president’s so-called pivot to the Asia-Pacific region. Obama hopes to persuade lawmakers to ratify it before year’s end, but Clinton’s opposition now exemplifies the political difficulty.

As a member of the Obama Cabinet in his first term, Clinton carried out the president’s priorities. Speaking on a trip to Australia in 2012 as negotiators from the partner nations were still deep in negotiations, she outlined the goals for it.

“This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field,” she said then. “And when negotiated, this agreement will cover 40% of the world's total trade and build in strong protections for workers and the environment. That's key because we know from experience, and of course research proves it, that respecting workers' rights leads to positive long-term economic outcomes, better jobs with higher wages and safer working conditions.”

After she left the Obama administration, Clinton’s rhetoric shifted more to express her own views. In her 2014 memoir, “Hard Choices,” she wrote about the administration’s renewed engagement with Vietnam and said the TPP was “one of our most important tools” for doing so.

“Our country has learned the hard way over the past several decades that globalization and the expansion of international trade brings costs as well as benefits,” she wrote, while noting that she and Obama had both promised in the 2008 campaign to pursue “smarter, fairer trade agreements.”

“Because TPP negotiations are still ongoing, it makes sense to reserve judgment until we can evaluate the final agreement,” she added. “It’s safe to say that the TPP won’t be perfect … but its higher standards, if implemented and enforced, should benefit American businesses and workers.”

Final negotiations on the deal concluded in October 2015, just as the scope of the challenge Clinton faced in the Democratic primaries became clearer. Her main rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, quickly vowed to block the deal. Clinton ultimately stated her opposition after taking time to study it.

“I still believe in the goal of a strong and fair trade agreement in the Pacific as part of a broader strategy both at home and abroad, just as I did when I was secretary of State,” she said in a statement. “But the bar here is very high and, based on what I have seen, I don't believe this agreement has met it.”

As a senator, Clinton voted against the only multilateral trade agreement that was considered during her tenure: the Central American Free Trade Agreement. She did support separate bilateral agreements with Chile, Singapore, Australia, Morocco, Bahrain and Oman, according to Politifact.

michael.memoli@latimes.com

For more 2016 campaign coverage, follow @mikememoli on Twitter

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