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Obama: Trade critics being ‘unrealistic’

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President Obama on Monday warned his critics on trade that if a pact with Pacific Rim nations collapses, China will boost its economic influence over the United States.

“If we don’t write the rules, China will write the rules out in that region,” Obama said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “We will be shut out — American businesses and American agriculture. That will mean a loss of U.S. jobs.”

{mosads}Obama has made an aggressive push to Congress to pass trade promotion authority, which would allow lawmakers to sign off on new trade agreements, but not offer amendments to them. His administration says the bill is crucial to finalizing a pair of international agreements at the top of his agenda.

But the president faces staunch opposition from many Democrats and labor unions, who worry new deals with European and Asian nations would hurt U.S. workers. Some conservative Republicans who are wary of globalization, and are reluctant to grant Obama additional powers, also oppose the legislation.

The president said those lawmakers are making a “big mistake” in opposing trade promotion authority.

“What we can’t do, though, is withdraw,” Obama said. “There has been a confluence of anti-global engagement from both elements of the right and elements of the left that I think are a big mistake.”

The Senate Finance Committee last week passed the fast-track trade bill with bipartisan support, clearing the way for a floor vote. But the House Ways and Means Committee cleared the measure with just two Democratic votes, foreshadowing a tough fight to get the bill through the lower chamber.

Several high-profile Democrats, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), have spoken out against the bill. Hillary Clinton, the overwhelming favorite to become the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016, has withheld judgment until a broader trade agreement is reached.

Obama said he shares Clinton’s “standard” on trade; that any agreement must be “strong on labor strong on the environment, helps U.S. workers, helps the U.S. economy.”

The president once again criticized his opponents on the left who have said the deal would hurt U.S. workers, saying he has proven his commitment to the middle class through the economic stimulus, auto bailout and other policies.

“To believe some of the rhetoric that has been coming out of opponents that I’m trying to just destroy the middle class or destroy our democracy is a little unrealistic. And they know it,” he said, adding that he takes the criticism “personally.”

Obama on Tuesday will host Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe for a state visit, when they will discuss some of the sticking points between their two nations on the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership. Obama said the two sides are close to reaching an agreement that would bring them one step closer toward finalizing the deal.

“Negotiations are tough on both sides because he’s got his own politics and interests,” he said. “Japanese farmers are tough, Japanese auto makers want certain things. I don’t expect that we will complete all negotiations [this week] … I will say that the engagement has brought the parties much closer together.” 

Tags Barack Obama fast-track authority Trade

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