Obama Tries a New Tack on TPP

President says unpopular trade pact about national security, not the economy

President Obama came out swinging to reset the debate over the much-derided Trans-Pacific Partnership at a press conference with the prime minister of Singapore Tuesday. He said the international trade deal is less about the economic impact and more about national security.

“This is an economic agreement, but what we’ve learned in history is that you can’t separate out economic interests and issues and security issues and interests,” Obama said. “[There’s] a strong security component to this,” he added.

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The focus on a national security imperative for the TPP from the president comes after the trade pact took a public pounding at both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions as catastrophic for American workers and good only for large, multinational corporations.

“If you think about those parts of the world where we still seek conflict, where we still see high levels of violence, they’re typically places that are less integrated into the world economy — and there’s a reason for that,” Obama said.

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Obama also tried to wedge China into his strategic appeal for the TPP. The president warned that “if we don’t establish strong rules and norms for how trade and commerce are conducted in the Asia-Pacific region, then China will.”

“China is already engaging all the countries in the region around its own version of trade agreements,” Obama said, noting China is not “worried about labor standards, or environmental standards, or human trafficking, or anti-corruption measures.”

“You get a low standard, lowest-common-denominator trade deal — and if America isn’t creating high standards, then China’s rules will govern in the fastest-growing part of the world,” he added.

Amid increasingly hostile public opinion of the trade pact and its political toxicity in the 2016 election, Obama reaffirmed his commitment to passing the top priority item for big business, saying “trying to pull up a drawbridge on trade would only hurt us and hurt our workers.”

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