President Barack Obama dismissed Hillary Clinton’s opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement Tuesday and suggested that her disapproval of the deal may be politically motivated.
“Right now, I’m president, and I’m for it,” he said at a news conference with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. “And I think I’ve got the better argument.”
Later, he continued, “Hopefully, after the election is over and the dust settled, there will be more attention to the actual facts behind the deal, and it won’t just be a political symbol or a political football.”
If ratified, the pact, known commonly as the TPP, would seek to strengthen economic ties across the world’s largest ocean by slashing more than 18,000 tariffs between 12 Pacific Rim nations: the United States, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Chile and Peru. Together, these countries comprise about 40 percent of the world’s economy.
Noticeably absent from the TPP is China.
Advocates like Obama say the deal is a critical step toward standardizing Pacific trade and making it fairer for American companies.
“Our economy currently has fewer tariffs, is more open than many of our trading partners,” Obama said. “So if everybody agrees that we’re going to have lower tariffs, that’s good for American businesses and American workers.”
The president also said that if the U.S. doesn’t step up to the plate and set a precedent for Pacific commerce, then China will likely establish a “lowest common denominator trade deal” that risks environmental regulations, human trafficking laws and American national security.
Opposition to the TPP is one of the few things on which Clinton and her Republican rival Donald Trump agree.
Both candidates say that if implemented, the deal will cost American jobs and lead to a decline in wages in parts of the country that were hit hardest by the Great Recession.
In 2012, when she was secretary of state, Clinton said the TPP, which was still being negotiated at the time, “sets the gold standard in trade agreements.”
At Tuesday’s conference, Lee expressed his support for the deal.
He said isolationism put America on the path to World War II, but said open trade has helped establish a “Pax Americana” across the Pacific for the last 70 years.
According to Lee, each of America’s TPP partners, especially Japan, which has a more protectionist stance on international trade, has overcome multiple political obstacles to agree to the deal’s final framework. He said the United States needs to uphold its end of the bargain because its global reputation is now at stake.
If the U.S. fails to do this, Lee said Singapore and other TPP countries will have a hard time trusting America in years to come.
“We’ll have to say, on trade, the Americans could not follow through. If it’s life and death, whom do I have to depend upon?” Lee said. “It’s an absolutely serious calculation which will not be said openly, but I have no doubts it will be thought.”
The United States, Japan and at least four other member countries will have to ratify the TPP by February 2018 in order for it to take effect.
While he slighted Clinton’s position on TPP, Obama saved most of his criticism during the press conference for Trump.
“I think the Republican nominee is unfit to serve as president,” he said. “I said so last week, and he keeps on proving it.”
While Obama and Lee were speaking, Trump was addressing supporters at a rally in Ashburn, Virginia, just miles from the capital. In a statement, Trump said a victory by him in November is the only way to stop a “TPP catastrophe.”
John Tompkins: 202-383-6041.