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.

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"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. 

Neither Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump: 'Good news' that Obama is campaigning again Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada MORE nor Republican Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump: 'Good news' that Obama is campaigning again Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada MORE support the TPP and each have pushed trade to the fore of their economic messages, riling up the electorate over the issue. 

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 B.G. FromanUS trade rep spent nearly M to furnish offices: report Overnight Finance: Trump hits China on currency manipulation, countering Treasury | Trump taps two for Fed board | Tax deadline revives fight over GOP overhaul | Justices set to hear online sales tax case Froman joins Mastercard to oversee global business expansion 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.