NYT: Obama Accuses Democrats of Distorting Facts on Trans-Pacific Trade Pact

May 08, 2015


The trade agreement lies stoop to a new low. Laughable. Nike, saying it will create 10,000 domestic jobs, backs the president’s case that the Trans-Pacific Partnership could help American manufacturing.

[Reposted from The New York Times  |  Peter Baker  |  May 8, 2015]

BEAVERTON, Ore. — President Obama on Friday lashed out at critics within his own party as he accused fellow Democrats of deliberately distorting the potential impact of the sweeping new trade agreement he is negotiating with Asia and standing in the way of a modern competitive economy.

With the same tone of disdain he usually reserves for his Republican adversaries, Mr. Obama said liberals who are fighting the new trade accord, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, were “just wrong” and, in terms of some of their claims, “making this stuff up.” If they oppose the deal, he said, they “must be satisfied with the status quo” and want to “pull up the drawbridge and build a moat around ourselves.”

“There have been a bunch of critics about trade deals generally and the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” he told hundreds of workers at the Nike headquarters here. “And what’s interesting is typically they’re my friends coming from my party. And they’re my fellow travelers on minimum wage and on job training and on clean energy and on every progressive issue, they’re right there with me. And then on this, they’re like whupping on me.”

But Mr. Obama said that he had no political motive for supporting freer trade with Asia. “I’ve run my last election,” he said. “And the only reason I do something is because I think it’s good for American workers and the American people and the American economy.” And so, “on this issue, on trade, I actually think some of my dearest friends are wrong. They’re just wrong.”

The president’s speech here on the sprawling campus of the shoe and sports apparel company represented his most expansive defense of his trade agenda since he asked Congress to grant him negotiating power often called fast-track authority. And his forceful response to critics underscored the bitter crossfire among Democrats over trade and the enormous challenge Mr. Obama faces in trying to rally his party behind one of the most significant initiatives left in his presidency.

While most Republicans support granting him negotiating power, he is struggling to rally even a few dozen Democrats in the House. The presidential trip here to trade-friendly Oregon was part of an unusually concerted White House drive to press Democrats to fall in line, and Mr. Obama hoped to capitalize on an announcement by Nike that the company and its partners would create up to 10,000 new jobs in the United States if the Pacific trade pact is approved.

Aside from this trip, Mr. Obama has been giving interviews to advocate his trade deal and meeting with different factions of Democrats, including some who are deeply skeptical. Aides have set up a virtual war room and deployed nearly every member of the Cabinet to help make the case and lobby lawmakers.

But the president has yet to convince many of his political allies on the left. “Decades of experience have taught us that corporate-driven trade policy too often accelerates a global race to the bottom,” said Eric Hauser, communications director for the A.F.L.-C.I.O. “Working people want trade policy that supports good jobs and decent wages. We can’t afford to fast-track another trade deal that only serves corporate interests.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of Democracy for America, the liberal advocacy group created by Howard Dean, the former Democratic National Committee chairman, mocked Nike’s promise to create jobs in the United States if the Trans-Pacific Partnership goes through.

“The only thing weaker than sweatshop-king Nike’s empty promises is the White House’s willingness to hype them as a victory in its push for a trade deal that will make it easier for other huge corporations to ship more U.S. jobs overseas, sell tainted food products in our supermarkets and challenge our laws in foreign tribunals,” he said.

Nike was a risky choice for Mr. Obama to make his case for trade. For years, the multibillion-dollar company has been cited as a case study by opponents of trade liberalization for its reliance on low-wage workers in Asia. But Mr. Obama hoped that the company’s announcement would help him argue that a new trade agreement could foster more manufacturing jobs at home, rather than shipping more jobs overseas.

“Free trade opens doors. It removes barriers. It creates jobs. It lets us invest more in the things that matter – that’s innovation, that’s creativity and people,” Mark Parker, the company’s chief executive, told the crowd before Mr. Obama’s speech.

Nike said the tariff relief promised by the 12-nation trade pact would allow the company to speed development of advanced manufacturing methods and a domestic supply chain to support United States-based manufacturing. In addition to 10,000 new manufacturing and engineering jobs, the company predicted that the trade pact would create thousands of construction jobs and up to 40,000 indirect jobs with suppliers and service companies over 10 years.

Only a small fraction of Nike’s current work force is in the United States. While the company employs about 26,000 people in America, its contract factories overseas employ about one million people, roughly a third of them in Vietnam. Labor activists have long complained that wages are low and that worker rights are routinely violated in such countries.

Protesters greeted Mr. Obama at a Democratic National Committee fund-raiser in Portland Thursday night. Several hundred people waving signs with messages like “No Fast Track to Hell” picketed near the Sentinel Hotel, where the president was gathering with 300 supporters who paid up to $33,400 for the privilege.

Nike said that it had revamped its practices since the 1990s, when it drew much criticism. Among other things, the company publicly disclosed all of the overseas factories that it has contracts with and created a policy that it says made labor and environmental standards higher priorities.

The trade promotion authority Mr. Obama is seeking from Congress would allow him to submit an accord to lawmakers for an up-or-down vote without allowing amendments. Such authority is considered crucial to completing negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would be the largest trade pact that the United States has joined in more than two decades.

Mr. Obama acknowledged that past trade deals, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, or Nafta, “didn’t always live up to the hype,” but he promised greater labor and environmental protections in the new Pacific accord and said it would fix some of the problems of older agreements.

“When you ask folks specifically, ‘What do you oppose about this trade deal?’ they just say, ‘Nafta,’” Mr. Obama said. “Nafta was passed 20 years ago. That was a different agreement. And in fact this agreement fixes some of what was wrong with Nafta by making labor and environmental provisions actually enforceable. I was just getting out of law school when Nafta got passed.”

Mr. Obama insisted that “this is the most progressive trade deal in history” and he scorned critics who have said it would undermine American laws and regulations on food safety, worker rights and even financial regulations, an implicit pushback against Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, although he did not cite her by name.

“They’re making this stuff up,” he said. “This is just not true. No trade agreement’s going to force us to change our laws.”

“The fact is,” he added, “some folks are just opposed to trade deals out of principle, a reflexive principle. And what I tell them is, ‘You know what? If you’re opposed to these smart, progressive trade deals, then that means you must be satisfied with the status quo.’”

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