Democrats, unions rally against Obama trade deal

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Ann Arbor –— Michigan Democrats and union leaders on Tuesday rallied against the Trans Pacific Partnership, arguing the 12-country trade deal backed by President Barack Obama could cost the state jobs.

The TPP, which would require congressional approval, has emerged as a lightning rod on the campaign trail. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is railing against the deal and questioning Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s pledged opposition, something he repeated at Friday’s rally in Dimondale.

Obama is expected to make a final push for ratification following November elections.

“I love President Obama, I have nothing but the utmost respect for him, but I am going to fight for you,” U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, told a crowd of around 50 at a union hall in Ann Arbor. “We have to make sure that bill never sees the light of day after this election.”

The TPP would eliminate tariffs and other trade barriers between participating western and Asia-Pacific countries. Critics say it does not go far enough to crack down on currency manipulation by Japan, which is a participant of the deal, giving its automakers an unfair advantage over Michigan companies.

“Toyota made more money on currently manipulation last year than Ford did in their worldwide operations,” Dingell said. “That’s not fair trade.”

Dingell was joined at the rally by Democratic congressional candidates Gretchen Driskell of Saline and Suzanna Shkreli of Clarkston. AFL-CIO officials, including Michigan president Ron Bieber, also spoke.

Driskell, a state legislator running against Republican Rep. Tim Walberg of Tipton in the 7th congressional district, opposes TPP and said she has seen on the campaign trail “the impact of the bad trade deals that have been hitting our working families.”

Shkreli, recently drafted to challenge GOP Rep. Mike Bishop of Rochester in the 8th district after actress Melissa Gilbert withdrew citing medical reasons, vowed to oppose “job-killing trade deals” like the TPP if she is elected. 

Bishop and Walberg each voted to give Obama “fast-track authority” to negotiate the TPP and present it to Congress for an up-or-down vote, but they both now oppose the final version of the deal.

GOP opposition

“Tim would not vote for TPP,” Walberg spokesman Dan Kotman said in a Tuesday email. “While he does support free and fair trade, TPP was poorly negotiated and fails to address currency manipulation and level the playing field for Michigan workers and manufacturers.”

Michigan Republicans could help determine the fate of TPP in the GOP-controlled U.S. House, said Dingell, who suggested their support of fast-track authority “was critical to its passage” last year.

Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles both oppose the TPP, as negotiated, and General Motors Co. has not offered public support.

The U.S. International Trade Commission, in a May report, projected U.S. passenger vehicle output could eventually increase when TPP is fully implemented in 30 years. But the deal could hurt production in the short term and slow auto parts exports, according to the analysis.

The Obama administration helped negotiate TPP, and the president reaffirmed his commitment to the deal earlier this month in a White House press conference with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The global economy is here to stay, Obama said, arguing that fair trade rules between the U.S. and participating Asia-Pacific countries would ultimately benefit America. The deal includes Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

“I’m a strong supporter of TPP because it will reduce tariffs — taxes, basically — on American goods, from cars to crops, and make it easier for Americans to export into the fastest-growing markets of the world,” Obama said. “TPP levels the playing field for our workers and helps to ensure countries abide by strong labor and environmental rules.”

The deal would eliminate more than 18,000 taxes on American-made exports and includes strong worker and environmental protections, according to the administration.

Trump, Clinton agree

Obama faces a narrowing window for congressional approval. Both Trump and Clinton have said they would not sign the deal if elected president.

Speaking Friday in suburban Lansing, Trump called TPP a “disaster” that could cost Michigan automotive jobs.

“The destruction that NAFTA started will be finished off if the Trans-Pacific Partnership is approved,” Trump argued, referencing the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed into law by Clinton’s husband in 1993.

The New York businessman also attacked Clinton for comments she made about TPP as secretary of state under Obama, including 2012, when she touted the potential deal as a “gold standard” for international trade agreements.

Clinton opposes the final version of the TPP, as negotiated by the Obama administration and partner countries. She first spoke out against the deal in October 2015, saying it did not meet the “high bar” she had hoped for.

“I will stop any trade deal that kills jobs or holds down wages, including the Trans Pacific Partnership,” Clinton said this month during a campaign stop in Warren. “I oppose it now, I’ll oppose it after the election, and I’ll oppose it as president.”

Dingell said she was pleased when Trump first started criticizing the TPP, but she called him a “demagogue” who would not be good for American workers.

“He doesn’t walk the talk,” she said, pointing to Trump’s past comments about auto jobs moving to lower-wage states and reports that some of his own branded products are made in China and other countries.

As for Clinton’s past comments on the TPP, “the deal had not been negotiated,” Dingell said.

“Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler all supported previous trade agreements, but everybody now is looking at the facts and seeing what bad trade deals do,” she said.

Unions have long opposed TPP, but some labor leaders such as former United Auto Workers President Bob King have worried that Clinton might not oppose the deal and make good on her commitment to support renegotiation of NAFTA.

“Donald Trump is trying to own the issue, and this is our damn issue,” said Al Cholger of the United Steelworkers.