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McCain hails NAFTA and Canada's role in Afghanistan

Republican presidential hopeful John McCain reaffirmed his support Friday for the North American Free Trade Agreement, scolding his Democratic rivals for saying they would reopen the 15-year-old treaty.

U.S. Republican presidential hopeful John McCain reaffirmed his support for the North American Free Trade Agreement on Friday, scolding his Democratic rivals for saying they would reopen the 15-year-old treaty.

Republican presidential hopeful John McCain sent a warning to his campaign rivals during Friday's town-hall-style event at Dell Inc. in Round Rock, Texas. ((Harry Cabluck/Associated Press))

Earlier this week, Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama threatened to pull the United States out of the trade agreement with Canada and Mexico unless it's renegotiated.

Speaking at a town hall meeting on Friday with Dell employees in Round Rock, Texas, McCain called NAFTA and similar free trade agreements with economic partners around the world the "future of America's economy."

He also warned his potential opponents in a November presidential election that unilateral renegotiation could have devastating consequences for Americans.  

"Every time in history we have practised protectionism, we have paid a very heavy price for it," McCain said.

"I want to tell our Canadian friends … that I will negotiate and conclude free trade agreements and I will not, after entering into solemn agreements, go and say that I will abrogate those agreements."

The long-time Arizona senator then thanked Canada for its "enormous contribution" in the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan against Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents, a key military alliance he said was "interconnected" with the close relationship the U.S. shares with its biggest trading partner.

"One of the greatest assets we have in Afghanistan today, frankly, are our Canadian friends," McCain said. "It's very controversial in Canada, their commitment and suffering and the losses they have faced. And we need, we need our Canadian friends and we need their continued support in Afghanistan."

Clinton, Obama vow to renegotiate on U.S. terms

During Tuesday's Democratic debate in Ohio, Clinton said her demands would include tougher enforcement of labour and environmental standards, adding that she would curtail the ability of foreign companies to sue the U.S. over its protection of workers.

Obama said he agreed with Clinton's criticisms of the deal, and added he would use the "hammer" of potentially opting out as "leverage to ensure that we actually get labour and environmental standards that are enforced."

The fresh debate sparked by Obama and Clinton's positions has garnered immediate attention from both sides of the border.  

On Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said it would be a "mistake" for the United States to reopen NAFTA, but added he "highly doubts" a new president would take such a step.

"If any American government ever chose to make the mistake of opening that, we would have something we would want to talk about as well," the prime minister told the House of Commons during question period.

Earlier this week, Trade Minister David Emerson and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said U.S. officials should not forget the benefits of the agreement and hinted Canada could respond to a NAFTA pullout by renegotiating U.S. access to Canada's oil.