Obama pushes for global trade deals despite opposition
Hannover, Germany — President Barack Obama mounted a strong defense of international trade deals Sunday in the face of domestic and foreign opposition, saying it’s “indisputable” that such agreements strengthen the economy and make U.S. businesses more competitive worldwide. But he acknowledged that the clock is ticking on his faltering trade agenda.
Obama, on a farewell visit to Germany as president, is trying to light a fire under stalled talks about a trans-Atlantic trade deal, a massive pact that would rewrite the rules for the billions in trade and investment between the European Union and the U.S. At a press conference, a trade show and a private dinner with chief executives, Obama tried to counter public skepticism about the unfinished deal with Europe, while also brushing off opposition from the 2016 presidential candidates to a pending Asia-Pacific trade pact.
Despite all that, Obama said, “the majority of people still favor trade. They still recognize, on balance, that it’s a good idea.”
“If you look at the benefits to the United States or to Germany of free trade around the world, it is indisputable that it has made our economies stronger,” Obama said.
The president said he was confident negotiations on the trans-Atlantic trade deal could be completed by the end of year, with ratification to follow. And he said that once the U.S. presidential primary season is over and politics settle down, the trans-Pacific pact, awaiting ratification, can “start moving forward” in Congress.
Obama is pushing to conclude negotiations on the European deal before he leaves office, so that “next president can pick that up rapidly and get that done,” he told the BBC in an interview broadcast Sunday.
But it’s not certain that the next president would pick up where Obama leaves off on trade. The trans-Atlantic pact has not been a top issue in the campaign to choose Obama’s successor. And both leading candidates — Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump — oppose the Asia-Pacific trade pact for its potential impact on American jobs and wages.
Obama isn’t alone in facing opposition on trade. His host and partner on the daylong campaign, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, also is under pressure from critics who claim the trans-Atlantic deal would erode environmental standards and consumer protections.
Thousands of people took to the streets in Hannover to protest the trade deal on the eve of Obama’s arrival.
Throughout the day, Obama and Merkel stressed their alignment on trade, as well as other matters.
At a press conference, Obama made a strong public show of support for her handling of the migrant issue, saying she was “on the right side of history on this.”