Barack Obama’s trade agenda push getting stiff resistance from Democrats

4 Jun 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

China could join TPP: Obama.

Washington: President Barack Obama’s make-or-break push for expanded trade is meeting stiff resistance from fellow Democrats in the House, the very lawmakers who helped him claim crucial wins on health care and other issues. One of the most notable aspects of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal—currently under negotiations between 12 Pacific Rim nations—has been that it does not include China.

As the House prepares to vote on a bill that would grant President Barack Obama unilateral trade authority, a major union Wednesday encouraged opponents to call their representatives. “This Wednesday, June 3, labor and our allies are acting together to make our voices heard loudly and clearly,” The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) declared in a statement. “Join us in calling our representatives in Congress to urge them to stop this runaway trade deal,” the union went onto say. “We need fair trade, not another rush to help multinational corporations at the expense of workers.” Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), also known as fast-track, has created a wedge between the president and many on the left, including labor unions. With a House of Representatives vote coming as early as next week, these Democrats note that labor unions are running hard-hitting ads against those supporting the president’s trade agenda. If passed, the president could submit a finalized trade deal to Congress that could not be amended or filibustered and would only need a straight up- or down-vote. Washington has been pushing the TPP, which aims for a loosening of trade restrictions and embraces 11 other Pacific Rim countries including Japan, Canada, Australia and Mexico, while notably excluding China.

The CEO there supports the deal. “These things have expanded the economy in the past,” says John Muncaster. “If we don’t join the world league and play in it – and then we’ll have to go back down to the minor league.” The company employs around 120 people and exports to more than 30 countries. The US Senate overcame bitter divisions last Friday to pass legislation that gives Mr Obama authority to swiftly forge international trade pacts, speeding the completion of the TPP. If fast-track passes, the president would be able to get TPP through much more easily. “In the past, deals that were approved through the fast-track process caused a loss of jobs, pushed down wages, undermined our communities and gave special legal rights to corporations,” AFSCME claimed. But Mr Obama and other supporters insist the TPP will level the playing field for US workers, and allow the country to help write the rules of 21st century global trade rather than economic rival China. “If we are not there helping to shape the rules of the road, then US businesses and US workers are going to be cut out, because there’s a pretty big country there, called China, that is growing fast, has great gravitational pull and often operates with different sets of rules,” Mr Obama told Marketplace.

China has been advocating the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) over the TPP, and managed to have the plan endorsed at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit in Beijing in November last year. A key question about the TPP has been how China would react to the deal, which calls all nations to agree to environmental, intellectual property, and labor standards. And after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) some are leery and expect more jobs to head overseas. “The American worker was sold a bill of goods with NAFTA, where it was supposed to raise wages across the Globe and be good for American jobs. Said Obama: The fact is that if we have 11 of the leading economies in the Asia-Pacific region, who have agreed to enforceable labor standards, enforceable environmental standards, strong I.P. protections, non-discrimination against foreign firms that are operating access to those markets, reduced tariffs, then China is going to have to at least take those international norms into account. And, we are still pursuing strong bilateral economic relations with China, we still pressure them around issues like currency, or the subsidies that they may be engaged in, or theft of intellectual property… So, part of what we’re doing here is we’re leveling up, as opposed to a race to the bottom, which means no labor protections, no environmental protections.

We know that,” says York. “People feel burned over the last 20-30 years when they’ve seen outsourcing take place,” says President Obama. “They’ve seen wages flat even as corporate profits go up. We want to make sure that there is a level playing field that’s going to allow us to be successful, and will help to shape trade and commerce, not just in the region, but in the world for a long time to come. Lawmakers who whole-heartedly support Obama on most issues are accepting his phone calls and invitations to the White House, and still saying “no” on trade. “My district took a severe beating as a result of NAFTA,” said Congressman G.K. While China seemed to perceive the TPP as a threat a few years ago, more recently it’s become quiet on the issue, as reported in late April by The New York Times. And my constituents still remember that.” Fast-track authority would let Obama present Congress with proposed trade agreements that it could ratify or reject, but not change.

As Obama noted in a recent speech at Nike, the deal protect workers’ freedom to form unions in countries that previously did not have such protections. “So when you look at a country like Vietnam, under this agreement, Vietnam would actually, for the first time, have to raise its labor standards,” Obama argues. “It would even have to protect workers’ freedom to form unions— for the very first time.” In the “Labor and the Environment” section, the TPA bill dictates that any trade deal that comes about through it, whether it’s TPP or not, must adopt and maintain measures implementing internationally recognized core labor standards. He told Public Media’s “Marketplace” radio show on Wednesday that complaints about NAFTA are outdated. “You can’t fight the last war,” the president said, and nothing can stop low-wage jobs from continuing to migrate to poor countries. However, he said, “if we’ve got potentially hundreds of millions of workers who are now subject to international labor standards that weren’t there before, and now, when we’re working with them — even if they’re not enforcing those standards 100 percent — we’ve got enough leverage to start raising those standards, that is good for us.” Such assurances haven’t persuaded House Democrats such as David Price of North Carolina. He said he’s frustrated that the administration seems reluctant to tweak the fast-track bill in ways that would help Democrats support it and defend their decision before labor unions, a crucial party constituency. “The administration and the Republican leadership need to listen to people like me,” Price said, because it could determine fast track’s fate.

Price said he has asked for language to deal with “currency manipulation” by China and other countries, “even if it’s aspirational” instead of detailed and immediate. House Speaker John Boehner, told Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade: “We’ve got some Republicans who don’t trust the president to do anything and don’t want to give him any authority at all for anything, and I understand their concerns.

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