Obama Remarks to Business Roundtable on Trade/Economy

December 05, 2014


In a speech to the Business Roundtable, President Obama reiterated his commitment to Fast Track trade authority and to stupid trade and global governance deals like the TPP.

Obama, McConnell and Boehner all favor these trade deals. The professional opinion-havers in the media and on the Hill say they can cooperate on these mercantilism appeasement and enablement treaties. The risk is great and we need to be aggressive in protecting the national economic interest, because they are waging a War on Prosperity.

I've excerpted the trade related remarks from the President's speech below.  The full text is here.  Charles Blum's (CPA Government Relations Director) reaction to the talk is here.

From the President's main speech.

Trade:  In Asia, there is a great hunger for engagement with the United States of America, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership is moving forward.  Michael Froman, who is here, has been working non-stop.  I’ve promised his family that he will be home sometime soon.  We are optimistic about being able to get a deal done and we are reinvigorating the negotiations with the Europeans on a transatlantic trade deal. 

If we can get that done, that's good for American businesses, it's good for American jobs, and it's actually good for labor and environmental interests around the world.  Because what we're trying to do is raise standards so that everybody is on a higher, but level playing field.  And I think that your help on that process can make an enormous difference.

From the President's answer to questions.

Q   The four things you mentioned in your earlier comments -- infrastructure, immigration, tax and trade -- are sweet spots for this group.  They’re our highest priorities.  Any one, or any combination, or all of them would lead to economic growth, job creation.  And everyone in here wants to grow and everyone wants to add jobs, and we all want to raise pay -- believe it or not.  It’s what we want to do.

We’d be interested in your comments on the priorities of those.  As you look into ’15 -- new Congress, new faces, certainly a changed Senate -- what’s first, what’s second?  Kind of what’s the lineup?

THE PRESIDENT: ...  With respect to trade, we hope to be able to not simply finalize an agreement with the various parties in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but also to be able to explain it to the public, and to engage in all the stakeholders and to publicly engage with the critics, because I think some of the criticism of what we’ve been doing on the Trans-Pacific Partnership is groups fighting the last war as opposed to looking forward.  And so that may be something discrete that we can get done if we’re able to have a good, solid debate and everybody feels like it’s been transparent and they understand exactly what it is that we’re trying to do.


Q    Mr. President, almost everyone agrees that U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman is doing a herculean job of driving trade agreements around the world.  It seems to be common sense that more access to global trade is good for the creation of U.S. jobs.  How can we get TPA passed so that Michael can have the clear support that he needs to drive these agreements?

     THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I’m going to be talking to McConnell and Boehner, Reid and Pelosi, and making a strong case on the merits as to why this has to get done.  It is somewhat challenging because of a factor that I mentioned earlier, which is Americans feeling as if their wages and incomes have stagnated.  

And there’s a half-truth that is magnified I think in the discussions around trade that global competition has contributed to some of that wage stagnation.  It's an appealing argument.  I think when you look at the numbers, it's actually an incorrect argument that over time, growth, investment, exports all have increased the capacity for working families to improve their economic standing.  But I say it's a half-truth because there’s no doubt that some manufacturing moved offshore in the wake of China entering the WTO and as a consequence of NAFTA.  

Now, more of those jobs were lost because of automation and capital investment, but there’s a narrative there that makes for some tough politics.  We have to be able to talk directly to the public about why trade is good for America, good for American businesses and good for American workers.  And we have to dispel some of the myths.  

Part of the argument that I’m making to Democrats is, don’t fight the last war -- you already have.  If somebody is wanting to outsource, if any of the companies here wanted to locate in China, you’ve already done it.  If you wanted to locate in a low-wage country with low labor standards and low environmental standards, there hasn’t been that much preventing you from doing so.  And, ironically, if we are able to get Trans-Pacific Partnership done, then we’re actually forcing some countries to boost their labor standards, boost their environmental standards, boost transparency, reduce corruption, increase intellectual property protection.  And so all that is good for us.  

Those who oppose these trade deals ironically are accepting a status quo that is more damaging to American workers.  And I’m going to have to engage directly with our friends in labor and our environmental organizations and try to get from them why it is that they think that -- for example, Mike is in a conversation with Vietnam, one of the potential signatories to the TPP.  Right now, there are no labor rights in Vietnam.  I don’t know how it’s good for labor for us to tank a deal that would require Vietnam to improve its laws around labor organization and safety.  I mean, we’re not punishing them somehow by leaving them out of something like this.  Let’s bring them in.

On the environmental front, I haven’t looked carefully at the environmental laws in Malaysia recently, but I suspect they’re not as strong as they are here.  It’s not a bad thing for us to nudge them in a better direction, particularly since we now know that environmental problems somewhere else in the world are going to ultimately affect us.

So I think that there are folks in my own party and in my own constituency that have legitimate complaints about some of the trend lines of inequality, but are barking up the wrong tree when it comes to opposing TPP, and I’m going to have to make that argument.  

But I will tell you, though, when you talk to Boehner and McConnell, that some of those same anti-trade impulses are more ascendant in the Republican Party than they might have been 20 years ago as well.  And some of you may have encountered those in some of your conversations.  And this was why it goes back to the point -- we’re not going to get trade done, we’re not going to get infrastructure done, we’re not going to get anything done in this town until we’re able to describe to the average American worker how at some level this is improving their wages, it’s giving them the ability to save for retirement, it’s improving their financial security.  

If people continue to feel like Democrats are looking after poor folks and Republicans are looking after rich folks and nobody is looking after me, then we don’t get a lot of stuff done.  And the trend lines evidence the fact that folks have gotten squeezed.  And obviously, 2007, 2008 really ripped open for people how vulnerable they were.

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