President Obama optimistic Congress will pass TPP this year

President Obama optimistic Congress will pass TPP this year
© Greg Nash

President Obama said Monday that he remains optimistic Congress will pass an expansive Pacific Rim trade agreement before he leaves office amid anti-trade election year rhetoric from Democrats and Republicans.

The president argued that there is no way for the United States to step away from the Pacific region or globalization even though the politics around trade are making a vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) more difficult.

"I'll continue making the case for TPP, and I’m optimistic that the United States Congress will ultimately support this landmark agreement,” Obama said in an email interview with The Straits Times ahead of a visit by Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

“I know that the politics around trade can be very difficult, especially in an election year,” Obama told the Singapore-based paper. 

“There are legitimate concerns and anxieties that the forces of globalization are leaving too many people behind and we have to take those concerns seriously and address them,” he said. 

On Friday, deputy press secretary Eric Schultz told reporters that the president is “acutely aware of the politics around this.”  

“But that's not going to stop him from getting this done,” Schultz said. 

Schultz said that the president "absolutely believes this deal should pass this year."

Singapore's prime minister, who will meet with Obama at the White House on Tuesday, has expressed concern that the chances of implementing the TPP among the 12 nations will plunge if the United States fails to move forward this year.

Singapore is one of 12 nations in the TPP deal. 

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Most Democrats in Congress are opposed to the TPP, and the negative tone on trade in the presidential campaigns is making the sell a difficult one on Capitol Hill. 

But the president argues that the United States can't forego its role in the Pacific Rim and must take the lead in writing global trade rules or cede control to other countries such as China. 

“The answer isn’t to turn inward and embrace protectionism," Obama said in the interview.

"We can’t just walk away from trade. In a global economy where our economies and supply chains are deeply integrated, it’s not even possible," he said. 

Last week, U.S. Trade Representative Michael FromanMichael FromanUS will investigate aluminum imports as national security hazard Overnight Finance: WH floats Mexican import tax | Exporters move to back GOP tax proposal | Dems rip Trump adviser's Goldman Sachs payout Froman heads to Council on Foreign Relations MORE said that the failure of Congress to pass the TPP would give China "the keys to the castle" on trade and would fail to calm concerns about job losses here.

The president suggested that the answer lies in making sure trade works for everyone by “supporting good jobs, reducing inequality and creating more opportunity."

"That’s what TPP does," he said. 

On Tuesday, the president will meet with Lee, which will probably focus heavily on trade, and then the leaders will gather for a state dinner.

This is the first trip to the United States by a Singaporean prime minister since 1985.