Obama administration officials ramp up push for Pacific pact

The Obama administration is marching in lockstep to sell the broader economic and security benefits of an Asia-Pacific agreement it says is crucial to the future of U.S. leadership in the rapidly growing region.

Four top officials — Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Secretary of State John Kerry, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman — all made their cases this week for why Congress should pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) this year or risk the United States ceding the long-term influence with its allies in the Pacific Rim.

{mosads}President Obama is doing his part by ratcheting up pressure on Congress to pass the sweeping agreement before he leaves office. But the president faces an uphill battle with a majority of congressional Democrats opposing the deal and Republican leaders calling for the resolution of lingering problems with the agreement. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Thursday threw cold water on the administration’s efforts to move the agreement in the lame-duck session after the elections, telling reporters that the next president will have to take the lead on ratifying the TPP deal.

The effort also faces opposition from both presidential candidates: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. 

But without the TPP, the United States will never be viewed as a central player in the Pacific Rim, Kerry said. 

“It will be a unilateral ceding of American political influence and power with grave consequences for the long term,” Kerry said Wednesday during remarks at the Wilson Center in Washington. 

That means, he said, that a failure to pass the TPP dissolves a wide range of opportunities and trust in the region.   

“Either the United States of America is an Asia Pacific power, or we are not. And the ‘not’ carries with it serious consequences,” Kerry said.

The United States must back up its words with actions of face losing critical geopolitical ground in Pacific.

“We can’t talk about the rebalance to Asia one day and then sit on the sidelines the next, and expect to possibly send a credible message to partners and to potential partners around the world,” Kerry said.

On Wednesday, Froman, the deal’s chief U.S. negotiator, said passing the TPP will provide allies the assurance that the United States will remain a Pacific power.

“If Congress rejects TPP, our ability to exercise that leadership will be severely diminished,” Froman said in an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle.

“As some of our closest partners have noted, if Congress delays, China will be all too glad to fill the vacuum and even our closest allies will feel the need to move on,” he said.

Business leaders also have joined the effort. 

GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt said Wednesday that the deal is important for U.S. partnerships in Asia. 

“Asia will feel broadly disconnected if we don’t pass TPP,” Immelt said Wednesday at the Council on Foreign Relations. 

Michael Ducker, president and CEO of FedEx Freight, said the United States will lose out if it doesn’t get into the game now. 

“Importantly, the U.S. will be put at an increasing disadvantage as other countries negotiate agreements that exclude us,” Ducker said Thursday night at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia.

“Without active U.S. involvement in the world’s fast growing economic region, other nations will continue to move forward and create agreements that shut out our interests and paper over trade rules,” he said.

Earlier in the week, Pritzker said that many of the 11 other TPP partners welcome and rely on a strong U.S. presence.

“If we cannot cross the finish line with TPP, the 11 other countries who negotiated with us — and, in many cases, made great sacrifices to reach this agreement — will be forced to rethink that faith in U.S. leadership,” she said Monday at an event on Capitol Hill. 

For Lew’s part, he made his argument in Mexico City on the importance of strengthening ties with America’s southern neighbor for the good of regional and Pacific partnerships.

“The cooperation between our two countries is critical under any conditions, but particularly as the global economy faces continued uncertainty and fragile growth,” Lew said during remarks on Thursday.

“Together, the U.S. and Mexico play an important role in the global economy and we should embrace opportunities to strengthen that relationship.”

Lew said the U.S-Mexico relationship extends far beyond economics and in fact has important implications for shared security issues. 

“We must also address shared challenges on immigration, border security, and illicit finance in ways that build on common values, nurturing the deep ties between our nations,” he said. 

Mexico is the nation’s third largest trading partner, with nearly $1.6 billion in goods and services trade.

U.S. exports to Mexico support 1 million U.S. jobs and 29 U.S. states count Mexico among their two largest export markets, Lew said.

Additionally, the TPP will build on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) — a two-decade-old deal demonized by Trump on the campaign trail — by “incorporating strong and enforceable labor and environmental standards and protecting our workers by making sure that our trading partners play by the same rules and values that we do.” 

Tags Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Jack Lew John Kerry Michael Froman Mitch McConnell Penny Pritzker President Obama Trans-Pacific Partnership

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