theguardian.com | 21 January 2015
Democrats oppose Obama’s demand for fast-tracking Pacific trade deal
President uses State of the Union address to request authority to fast-track Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement with 11 other countries
Congressional Democrats are set to demonstrate their “lack of support” for the fast track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) the morning after Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, according to a statement.
As expected, Obama demanded the authority to fast track international trade agreements in his sixth State of the Union address.
While not directly mentioning either the TPP, the international free trade deal with 11 nations in the Asia Pacific region; or the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the European Union, the president asked Congress for the authority to fast-track the trade deals, calling them “[not] just free, but fair”.
Using the same term he has repeatedly used to describe the deals, Obama said that 21st century businesses needed to sell more American products overseas: “Today, our businesses export more than ever, and exporters tend to pay their workers higher wages.”
As in last year’s State of the Union address, the president brought up China as a formidable threat, accusing the Asian manufacturing behemoth of wanting to write the rules for trade in the high growth Asia Pacific regions.
“We should write those rules. We should level the playing field. That’s why I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair,” he said, urging Congress to give him the trade promotion authority to fast-track the trade agreement.
Under the fast-track, Congress will have to vote on the agreements but is not allowed to make changes to the terms.
After the TPP found opposition from his own party, the president said he will defy Democrats to go ahead with the trade deal.
The TPP is being negotiated behind closed doors, with the advice of a few trade unions and consumer advocacy groups besides 600 corporate advisors. Experts’ main gripe with the deal is that it resembles older trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) in 1994 – credited with the loss of hundreds of thousands of American jobs to Mexico.
As fears of fresh offshoring prompted by TPP and TTIP emerge, Obama confronted doubts, promising a new and improved deal.
“Look, I’m the first one to admit that past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype, and that’s why we’ve gone after countries that break the rules at our expense,” he said.
The president said that more than 95% of the world’s customers lived outside the US and put his faith in “manufacturing executives” who have promised to bring jobs back from China. “Let’s give them one more reason to get it done,” he said.
But trade experts are not convinced, saying that going ahead with the trade deals would contradict his enthusiasm for “middle-class economics” – the main focus of his address.
“Progress from Obama’s middle class economics policies would be destroyed by his push for more of the same trade agenda that has offshored good-paying jobs, forced wages down, increased income inequality and fueled the demise of America’s middle class,” Lori Wallach, the director of Global Trade Watch said in a statement released soon after the address.