WASHINGTON, Jan. 13, 2016 – A day after President Obama used his State of the Union speech to urge Congress to approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership, his point man on trade was out drumming up support for the agreement in Washington.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman told an audience at the Wilson Center that momentum for the trade pact with 11 other Pacific Rim nations has been building since its details were released in October, as “fresh facts” displace “stale fears.” Among the facts cited by Froman was that TPP will cut over 18,000 foreign taxes on U.S. exports, including agricultural goods, and that the accord will support thousands of high-paying jobs in the U.S.
“Day after day, the American people are stepping up and speaking out in favor of leading on trade,” Froman said.
In a nod to the Wilson Center, which was named after President Woodrow Wilson and provides a non-partisan policy forum for dealing with global issues, Froman said he wanted to focus his talk on the TPP as a “strategic imperative,” backed by a host of foreign policy experts, including U.S. secretaries of state and defense, national security advisers, and high ranking military officers.
“They recognize that trade agreements, first and foremost, must stand on their economic merits,” Froman said. “They appreciate that the foundation of U.S. national security is a strong economy and that by driving growth and keeping America competitive, TPP will strengthen that foundation. But they also appreciate that TPP is strategic in the broader sense of the word. TPP is the economic centerpiece of our rebalancing to Asia and a concrete manifestation of America’s ability to show global leadership.”
Froman noted that the “critical” Asian-Pacific region is in flux, and that its nations could eventually end up being guided by principles set forth in the TPP, with U.S. participation and leadership, or by China.
“The future of the Asia-Pacific region is still being written,” Froman said, citing a question raised by Sandy Berger, a former national security adviser. “Will it be China-centric or Trans-Pacific in nature? That is what at stake, economically and strategically.”
Froman said delay in approving TPP is costly, both in economic terms and in terms of U.S. leadership.
“Why wait and allow thousands of foreign taxes on American exports to persist? Why wait on supporting additional high-paying middle class jobs here in the United States? Why wait and allow other countries like China to write the rules of the road?
“As President Obama asked Congress last night, ‘You want to show our strength in this century? Approve this agreement. Give us the tools to enforce it.’”
Separately, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also talked up the virtues of the agreement in a conference call. Agreeing with Froman, Vilsack said if Congress rejects TPP it would give China an opening to negotiate “an all-Asian agreement” with weaker labor and environmental standards.
Vilsack also noted that the economies of the TPP nations account for about 40 percent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product and that commerce with the 11 TPP partners make up 47 percent of all U.S. trade. Approximately a half billion middle-class consumers live in Asia, with another 2.7 billion expected in the next 15 years, he said.
“Certainly in the agricultural area, it would provide a significant boost to markets that today are a bit soft,” Vilsack said.
Vilsack also urged business owners to educate themselves on the benefits of the agreement and put pressure on Congress to pass it. “The rest of the countries are waiting for the U.S. to act,” he said. “If we don’t get this done, it’s not as if the status quo remains.” Instead, the United States “would be at a significant competitive disadvantage.”
(Steve Davies contributed to this report.)
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