President Barack Obama on Friday painted the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the massive but faltering trade deal between 12 Pacific nations, as a simple choice: Either the U.S. will write the trade rules in Asia or China will.
It’s an argument the president has made before. But this time, he did it alongside Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the former GOP presidential candidate. It’s part of a last-minute push to get Congress to pass the deal during the upcoming lame duck session, despite opposite from both presidential candidates and warnings from congressional leaders that Obama doesn’t have the votes to pass it.
“Right now, China is pushing hard to create their own trading regime out in Asia,” the president said, referring to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a Beijing-backed Asian trade deal that does not include the United States. Despite claims from GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump that TPP benefits Beijing, China is not a signatory to the tentative deal that covers 40 percent of the world’s economy and was negotiated in secret over five years.
“I promise you that China is not going to be setting up a bunch of rules that are going to be to the advantage of American companies and American businesses,” Obama said at the White House. “If we are not in there and making sure that fair trade is established in the Asia market we’re going to be cut out.”
Kasich, for his part, told CNN ahead of the meeting that he knew he would take heat for meeting with the Democratic president. But he said the deal was vital.
“The two most vociferous opponents of the trade agreement are (Russian President) Vladimir Putin and (Chinese President) Xi (Jinping), one of the most repressive leaders in the history of China,” Kasich said. “That, in and of itself, can tell you why this agreement is so important.”
Obama’s hope is that the antipathy toward the deal will die once the election is over. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said there will be no vote on TPP this year. House Speaker Paul Ryan has said there aren’t enough votes to get it through. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, while on the campaign trail, also has said she does not support the deal — although she backed it when she was Obama’s secretary of state.
Obama staked his economic legacy on the TPP. If he fails to secure it, and if his successor kills it, America’s credibility in Asia would also take a hit.
By David Francis