Clinton targets 'rules of origin' in Rust Belt push

Hillary Clinton, campaigning in Cleveland on March 8, believes that automakers from Japan and other countries which source cheaper parts made in China shouldn't be able to benefit from trade deals if their cars are assembled using parts manufactured abroad. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG
UPDATED: 3/13/16 10:26 am ET - adds details

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton proposed to make it harder for foreign automakers to claim that their cars are made in the U.S., as she tries to recruit Rust Belt voters following a surprise defeat in Michigan.

At a campaign stop in Youngstown, Ohio, Clinton on Saturday called for tougher "rules of origin," the means used to determine whether a product can be labeled "made in America" and thereby eligible for preferential treatment.

Clinton believes that automakers from Japan and other countries which source cheaper parts made in China shouldn't be able to benefit from trade deals if their cars are assembled from parts manufactured abroad, an aide said.

"We are going to enforce trade agreements," the former Secretary of State said at M-7 Technologies, which is involved in advanced manufacturing in the energy, aerospace, and automotive industries, among others. "We are not any longer going to be at the mercy at whatever any country decides to do to take advantage of our markets."

She also highlighted the importance of raising those standards to the American steel industry, which is facing pressure from Chinese competition. The Vallourec Star steel plant in Youngstown, Ohio, conducted three rounds of layoffs in 2015.

"What has been happening is unfair. It is wrong. We are going to stop China and anybody else from dumping steel," she said.

Clinton is trying to better articulate her views on trade ahead of primary elections on March 15 in manufacturing-heavy states -- Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina.

Her campaign  believes that detailed and nuanced positions will appeal to voters in those states.

In Michigan's March 8 Democratic primary, 60 percent of voters said they saw free trade as detrimental to American jobs. Clinton lost those voters by 10 percentage points, helping to tip the state to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders by 1.5 percentage points.

"Voters that have lived in the industrial Midwest states that have had a lot of economic turmoil in the last few decades have a more sophisticated ear and eye towards economic issues than you might expect," said Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri. "People are really focused on how are you going to make this new world work, and create new jobs and opportunity.''

Clinton has said she will only support trade deals that are beneficial to American workers, and has a mixed record on past agreements.

She was supportive of the Obama administration's efforts to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but ultimately said that she couldn't support it because it didn't do enough to help workers or prevent currency manipulation.

She voted against the Central American Free Trade Agreement while in the Senate. That deal was an extension of the North American Free Trade Agreement, parts of which Clinton has said she would like to renegotiate if elected.

In a statement, Sanders communications director Michael Briggs chided Clinton for not aggressively opposing TPP while it was being debated in Congress in 2015.

"Instead," Briggs said, "she chose to remain silent and forced working families, unions and members of Congress to fight against the world's biggest corporations and the most powerful special interests in the country without her support."

He added: "The people of Ohio don't need a president who says the right things in a stump speech. They need a president who is with them every single day."