Mary Barra. (Michael Probst / Associated Press)
Washington — General Motors Chief Executive Mary Barra wants the Obama administration to ensure that a proposed trade agreement with Japan and 10 other nations has provisions to prevent currency manipulation.
Barra raised concerns about the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact with members of Michigan’s congressional delegation during a 45-minute meeting Wednesday morning. Her predecessor wrote President Barack Obama last summer urging the agreement to contain enforceable currency measures. U.S. automakers worry that a trade deal that didn’t address currency could threaten U.S. production by allowing countries to manipulate their currency to make exports to the U.S. cheaper.
“We, General Motors, just want to make sure there’s the right strength in the ability to enforce from a currency manipulation perspective. That’s what’s critical and I think all of the (U.S.) auto companies are united together on that,” Barra told Detroit reporters after exiting the meeting.
Obama’s efforts to win approval of new trade deals hit a big roadblock on Wednesday when Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he was opposed to fast-track legislation. “I think everyone would be well-advised just not to push this right now,” he said.
With Democrats divided, it may mean Congress doesn’t take up any new trade deals — which still have been completed — before the November election.
The U.S., Japan, Mexico, Canada and eight other nations have been negotiating a Trans-Pacific Partnership that would create a free trade zone accounting for 40 percent of the world’s economy. Australia, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam are also part of the talks. The Obama administration has refused to raise currency as an issue in the talks — arguing that other international forums like the G-20 are a better tool.
Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in an interview that much of the meeting with Barra was focused on the trade deal. “We want to make sure that any trade agreement” addresses automakers concerns about currency — particularly a deal with Japan.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, said there is “deep concern about currency manipulation” and the impact of a trade deal on U.S. automakers, especially given that Japan has very few foreign imports — and U.S. automakers blame trade barriers. Stabenow said: “I told (Barra) we’re behind her on this and TPP has got to be right for our Michigan automobile companies.” She said the turnaround of the U.S. auto industry could be “jeopardized” if currency isn’t addressed.
Congress is considering approving fast-track authority that would allow the Obama administration to get an up or down vote on a trade deal without amendments, something many countries want before they will agree to a trade deal. President Barack Obama said Tuesday in his State of the Union address he wants Congress to pass fast-track authority so he can reach agreements on the Pacific zone as well as a separate proposed trade deal with Europe.
“We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment, and open new markets to new goods stamped “Made in the USA.” China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines. Neither should we,” Obama said.
In November, Michigan congressional Democrats met at the White House with Vice President Joe Biden and Froman to make the case that the Trans-Pacific Partnership needs protections against currency manipulation — especially in reference to Japan and Japanese automakers. They also worry that without protections, China could one day join the treaty and use its ability to manipulate its currency to undercut U.S. auto production.
Barra was making her first trip to Washington since taking the reins at GM earlier this month. She attended the State of the Union as a guest of first lady Michelle Obama and got a chance to briefly say hello to President Obama.
“Here in America, our success should depend not on accident of birth, but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams. That’s what drew our forebears here. It’s how the daughter of a factory worker is CEO of America’s largest automaker; how the son of a barkeeper is speaker of the House; how the son of a single mom can be president of the greatest nation on Earth,” Obama said in his speech, referencing Barra, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, and himself.
Barra said she was touched. “It was especially touching for me because it referenced my father who I am so proud of,” she said.
She called the speech a “great opportunity to represent the men and women of General Motors.”
Barra praised Obama’s call for moving forward and for “how much we can accomplish if we work together.”
She noted car purchases are one of the most significant purchases most Americans make. “The stability and the consumer confidence — continuing to work together and the build the economy — is important,” she said.