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The National Retail Federation would not be comfortable with any presidential candidate that opposes trade, the group's CEO and president told CNBC on Tuesday.
Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have struck a wary tone on trade. The two standard-bearers oppose President Barack Obama's signature trade pact with 12 Pacific Rim nations, and Trump has said he would renegotiate NAFTA, the 22-year-old pact among the United States, Canada and Mexico.
"I think we are very troubled by the comments about trade. The arguments against trade that we've heard from the two candidates make for great politics. They make for terrible economics," NRF CEO Matthew Shay told "Squawk Box."
Shay acknowledged that Trump's anti-trade message resonates in places like Ohio where he must win. That is in part due to the challenges of conveying the pros and cons of trade, he added.
Proponents of trade often note that increased international commerce has lowered the price of many products, raising the purchasing power of average Americans. But it has an outsize impact on some American workers, including those employed by the manufacturing sector.
"The negative consequences are very visible on a very few vocal people, and the benefits are broadly diffused across the economy, and it's harder to quantify how we all benefit from trade sitting in this room in this city across the country," he said from the "Squawk Box" set in New York.
Don Baer, former chief speech writer to President Bill Clinton, said NAFTA likely is due to be revised. However, he cautioned against a wholesale renegotiation, for which Trump reiterated his support during a speech on the economy on Monday.
"He came out with a pretty conventional Republican agenda, except for the fact that he's against trade, and he's going to throw out all of our trade deals, which as we all know are really creating jobs in this country, not destroying jobs," Baer told "Squawk Box."