Obama be­gins selling Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship to law­mak­ers and public


Ne­go­ti­a­tions over the com­plex trade deal took more than five years. On Tues­day, U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama be­gan what may be a sim­i­larly dif­fi­cult task — selling the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship to the U.S. Congress and the Amer­i­can public.

Obama met with busi­ness and agri­cul­tural lead­ers at the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture. The site of the meet­ing re­flects the ur­gency that farm groups have at­tached to the deal to re­move tar­iffs and other trade bar­ri­ers that would in­crease ex­ports rang­ing from meat and poul­try to grains and cot­ton.

Obama em­pha­sized that the deal would elim­i­nate or re­duce more than 18,000 tar­iffs that par­tic­i­pat­ing coun­tries im­pose on U.S. ex­ports. The re­duc­tion of those tar­iffs will lower the price that in­ter­na­tional con­sumers pay for U.S. goods. For ex­am­ple, Obama said Ja­pan cur­rently puts a 38 per­cent tax on Amer­i­can beef and Malaysia cur­rently puts a 30 per­cent tax on Amer­i­can auto parts.

“If the tar­iffs are down, if the taxes are down on goods made in Amer­ica, that means U.S. com­pa­nies are in­vest­ing here and are able to sell over there with­out a disad­van­tage. That’s what Amer­i­can lead­er­ship looks like in the 21st cen­tury,” Obama told re­porters at the end of the closed-door meet­ing.

Lead­ers of trade groups rep­re­sent­ing the film, travel and tech­nol­ogy in­dus­tries were among those who at­tended the meet­ing with Obama and Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Tom Vil­sack. One of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s selling points is that it will put pres­sure on China to match var­i­ous safe­guards and open­ness to com­pe­ti­tion that’s writ­ten into the agree­ment.

“Un­der this agree­ment, we, rather than coun­tries like China, are writ­ing the rules for the global econ­omy,” Obama said.

It will be weeks be­fore the full scope of the agree­ment an­nounced Mon­day is known, but sev­eral la­bor groups are wor­ried that it will re­sult in Amer­i­can jobs sent to coun­tries with lower wages and less strin­gent la­bor and en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards. A con­gres­sional vote on the pact is not ex­pected to oc­cur un­til well into next year, pro­vid­ing the unions with the chance to max­i­mize lever­age with law­mak­ers cov­et­ing their sup­port.

The pres­i­dent has to wait 90 days be­fore sign­ing the pact, and only then will Congress be­gin the process of vot­ing on it. Ap­proval of the deal would give Obama a legacy-defin­ing vic­tory. To achieve a vic­tory, Obama will need help from law­mak­ers in the op­po­si­tion Repub­li­can Party and will need to over­come doubts from a key con­stituency in his own Demo­cratic Party. In the hours af­ter the trade deal was an­nounced, some union lead­ers made clear that a can­di­date’s stance on the Tran­sPa­cific Part­ner­ship will de­ter­mine whether he or she can ex­pect sup­port. While unions have lost po­lit­i­cal clout as their num­bers have de­clined, their po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees do­nated more than US$60 mil­lion to cam­paigns dur­ing the 2012 elec­tions. About 90 per­cent of that money went to­ward Demo­cratic can­di­dates, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Re­spon­sive Pol­i­tics.

Chris Shel­ton, pres­i­dent of the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Work­ers of Amer­ica, whose mem­bers in­clude cus­tomer ser­vice reps and com­puter tech­ni­cians, said the union will “hold ac­count­able those mem­bers of Congress who sup­port this give­away to the 1 per­cent.”

Among the Demo­cratic can­di­dates run­ning for pres­i­dent, Sen. Bernie San­ders, an in­de­pen­dent, moved quickly to voice his op­po­si­tion.

“Wall Street and big cor­po­ra­tions just won a big vic­tory. Now it’s on us to stop the (hash)TPP from be­com­ing law,” San­ders tweeted.

Another Demo­cratic can­di­date, for­mer Mary­land gover­nor Martin O’Malley, has been highly crit­i­cal of the trade pact in re­cent months.

Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton has not yet taken a stance on the deal. The full text of the agree­ment is not yet avail­able for public read­ing.

The TPP is de­signed to en­cour­age trade among the United States, Aus­tralia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Ja­pan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Sin­ga­pore and Viet­nam. The pact would re­duce tar­iffs in the par­tic­i­pat­ing na­tions in a bid to open mar­kets.


U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama meets with agri­cul­ture and busi­ness lead­ers at the Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment in Washington, D.C., Tues­day, Oct. 6.

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