President Obama promoted his trade agenda in a series of local television interviews Thursday as his administration announced a series of small-scale initiatives aimed at boosting exports in rural communities.
The coordinated push comes as the White House is ramping up efforts to win support in Congress for expanded powers to finalize a major free trade deal in the AsiaPacific region, which the president has called a key priority for his final two years in office.
Among the television stations Obama spoke with was KGW in Portland, Ore., the home state of Sen. Ron Wyden, whom the White House views as a key Democratic ally on trade.
“We want to make sure China is not writing the rules,” Obama told the station. “We have to get this bill done.”
The administration has argued that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal would boost U.S. exports in fast-growing Asian markets at a time when the country is facing increased economic competition from China, whose labor and environmental standards are lower.
Republican leaders have called on Obama to more aggressively pitch his plans to skeptical Democrats, whose support will be necessary to complete the 12-nation TPP agreement.
“That sort of ground-level advocacy is something that I do think will persuade Democrats and Republicans, frankly, to take a close look at some of the trade agreements that the president is trying to broker,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said of Obama’s interviews, which also included stations in Fargo, N.D., Kansas City, Mo., and Seattle.
Among the White House’s new initiatives are a series of reverse trade missions to help rural businesses meet foreign buyers as well as an effort to double the number of those businesses attending international trade shows.
Though the steps are small in scale, administration officials said they would help businesses recognize the potential markets in emerging regions such as Asia.
Wyden and Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) have been negotiating a “fast-track” bill that both sides hope could be introduced in March, with a goal of sending it to Obama’s desk by the end of the month. U.S. negotiators hope to finalize the TPP by the end of the year, before the 2016 presidential race creates additional political uncertainty.
But unions, environmental groups and leading Democrats have strenuously opposed the White House’s push for legislation on trade-promotion authority. Such a bill would grant the administration fast-track powers to reach final terms on the trade pact without allowing lawmakers the opportunity to amend those details before a vote in Congress.
Opponents say the powers would limit public debate and transparency on key elements of the massive TPP deal, which is being negotiated by countries representing 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product.
In a Washington Post op-ed piece Thursday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) charged that the trade deal would benefit large companies at the potential expense of taxpayers. On the Senate floor, Warren joined a group of six other Democratic senators in warning against the dangers of unfair trade practices, using a placard reading “Not Another NAFTA” — a reference to the North American Free Trade Agreement struck by the Clinton administration.
On Tuesday, AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka rallied union workers in Atlanta against granting Obama fast-track trade powers. “It means lost jobs and lower wages,” Trumka said in a video this week.
“The president has made a compelling case about how this will benefit American workers,” Bruce Andrews, the deputy secretary of commerce, said on a conference call with reporters Thursday, “and how important it is that we write trade rules in Asia. . . . It’s a choice between us writing it or China writing it.”