US trade rep pitches for TPP amid out­cry

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - By CHEN WEIHUA in Wash­ing­ton chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

Just a few min­utes be­fore US Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Michael Fro­man made his case for the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship (TPP) at the new Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute build­ing in Wash­ing­ton on Thurs­day morn­ing, a fact sheet had been dis­trib­uted to the au­di­ence.

It listed many ben­e­fits of the free trade agree­ment be­tween the US and other 11 Pa­cific Rim na­tions, and touts that TPP will help boost US ex­ports, GDP growth, elim­i­nate 18,000 tar­iffs and pro­vide most of its ben­e­fits to US work­ers.

But the 50-minute talk where Fro­man and Se­na­tor Jeff Flake ar­gued for TPP was in­ter­rupted three times by an­gry anti-TPP pro­test­ers, one shout­ing “TPP stands for cor­po­rate pro­tec­tion­ism and TPP is not fair trade.” They were quickly stopped and es­corted out of the room by se­cu­rity.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is go­ing all out to get Congress to rat­ify TPP dur­ing the lame-duck pe­riod af­ter the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion on Nov 8. Many US ex­perts, such as Michael Green and Matthew Good­man at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, said the TTP pass­ing is a long shot.

US Vice-Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den ad­mit­ted on Wed­nes­day at the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions in New York that the chances of TPP pass­ing dur­ing Obama’s re­main­ing four months are “less than even”. But he still tried to sound op­ti­mistic, say­ing “there is a gen­uine chance. It’s pos­si­ble we can get it passed.”

Flake, from Ari­zona, sighed on Thurs­day over the fact that the top four US pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates this year all op­posed TPP, re­fer­ring to Don­ald Trump, Hil­lary Clin­ton, Bernie San­ders and Ted Cruz. “So we are in a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion,” he said.

He also saw a slight hope, say­ing the lame-duck ses­sion will be a time that peo­ple do what they know they need to do but can­not do at an­other time.

Strong op­po­si­tion to TPP comes mainly from Obama’s own Demo­cratic Party, but a grow­ing num­ber of Repub­li­cans, who tra­di­tion­ally fa­vor free trade and whom Obama hopes to count on, are not en­thu­si­as­tic ei­ther. Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McConnell has said the TPP would not get a Se­nate vote this year; House Speaker Paul Ryan has said he does not see enough votes for it to pass.

Fro­man ad­mit­ted that as a coun­try the US has not done as well as it should have and as much as it should have to deal with the ef­fects of dis­lo­ca­tion, whether by au­to­ma­tion or glob­al­iza­tion.

“As peo­ple are put out of a job, and com­mu­ni­ties are af­fected by change, we haven’t re­ally had as much an ap­proach as we all would like to see. I hope that (the) fu­ture ad­min­is­tra­tion and fu­ture Congress could work to­gether to do more,” he said.

“There is more that needs to be done, whether it’s life­long learn­ing, in­vest­ment in in­fra­struc­ture or skills build­ing.”

But he was re­minded by the au­di­ence why the US gov­ern­ment has not done more to help dis­placed work­ers, in­stead of just talk­ing year af­ter year.

Fro­man ad­mit­ted that it will be a huge blow to US cred­i­bil­ity if TPP is not passed. “It’s about our cred­i­bil­ity go­ing into any trade agree­ment ne­go­ti­a­tion go­ing for­ward,” he said, adding that it is not just an eco­nomic is­sue but a strate­gic is­sue.

Fro­man cited China’s progress in the re­gion with its Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive, the Asia In­fra­struc­ture In­vest­ment Bank (AIIB) and the Re­gional Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship (RCEP), a free­trade agree­ment that in­cludes 16 coun­tries, many of which are also a part of TPP.

Obama has re­peat­edly made his case for TPP from a geopo­lit­i­cal view, say­ing “China should not make the rules, we should.”

Yukon Huang, a se­nior as­so­ci­ate of the Asia pro­gram at the Carnegie En­dow­ment for In­ter­na­tional Peace, said that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has to in­creas­ingly rely on geopo­lit­i­cal fac­tors to sell TPP to the Amer­i­can pub­lic be­cause TPP’s eco­nomic ra­tio­nale is not ob­vi­ous.

“You can­not have a trade agree­ment in Asia that does not in­clude China,” said Huang, a for­mer World Bank coun­try di­rec­tor for China.

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