President Obama made a strong pitch for the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement on Friday, choosing Nike Inc. headquarters as a backdrop and offering an incentive: Nike chief executive officer Mark Parker said if TPP is ratified, the company will create an “advanced footwear manufacturing center” in the U.S. that will create 10,000 jobs over the next decade.
Parker, introducing Obama in Beaverton, Ore., surrounded by a large crowd, said another 40,000 jobs would be created across the supply chain in the U.S. to support its efforts. Nike has more than 1 million workers in 700 contract factories worldwide that manufacture its sneakers.
“We support President Obama’s leadership in trade and the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” Parker said. “We are proof that trade works. Free trade opens doors, removes barriers and creates jobs. It has helped Nike employ 26,000 people across this country…Economic growth doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Free trade drives our future growth and the capacity to invest and innovate.”
Obama said he believes TPP, which he called “the most progressive free trade agreement we’ve ever negotiated,” when ratified, “will level the playing field” and enable U.S companies to increase exports and create jobs.
TPP is said to be in the final stages of talks between the U.S. and 11 other Asia-Pacific countries, including Vietnam, which is the second-largest apparel supplier to the U.S. It would bring together about 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product under one free trade zone. In addition to the U.S. and Vietnam, TPP countries are Japan, Mexico, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, Chile and Brunei.
Obama also made the case that bipartisan trade promotion authority legislation introduced last month by Sens. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) and Orrin Hatch (R., Ore.) is needed to ensure TPP’s passage.
The President noted that Friday’s employment report, which saw 230,00 jobs added in April, meant that there have been “3,000 new jobs in the past 12 months, 62 months in a row of job growth and all told, over the past 62 months in a row, America’s businesses have created 12.3 million new jobs.”
“I view smart trade agreements as a vital part of middle class economics,” said Obama, along with issues such as increasing the minimum wage and fair pay for women.
“In a lot of parts of the world, the rules are unfair and put American workers and companies at a competitive disadvantage,” the President said in noting that critics often cite this as why the U.S. shouldn’t participate in FTAs. “We have to make sure Americans write the rules of the global economy. If we don’t, China will write them. And they’ll write those rules in a way that gives Chinese workers and Chinese businesses the upper hand. That’s the choice we face. We can’t isolate ourselves from world markets. We have to make sure the rules are fair. If we do that, we win every time.”
Obama said he is mindful of opposition, mainly from members of his own party and organized labor, with whom he normally is in sync. The President said he disagrees with them that free trade in general and TPP in particular will lead to job losses at home, while acknowledging that previous pacts such as the North American Free Trade Agreement has either led to or coincided with an era of outsourcing of manufacturing jobs.
“The only reason I do something is because I think it’s good for American workers and the American economy,” the President said. “They say this trade agreement will cost American jobs. That’s why we’re designing a different kind of trade deal, one that opens doors to higher-skilled, higher-wage jobs of the future.”
Obama said TPP is a new style trade agreement that looks to fix the problems of previous pacts.
“It’s about equity and access, the past versus the future,” he said. “TPP has the highest standards and is the most progressive trade deal in history,” with strict standards and provisions in areas like child labor, the right to form unions and the environment.
“Vietnam would for the first time have to raise its labor standards, it would have to set a minimum wage, make workplaces safer, allow workers to form unions for the first time,” Obama said. “If Vietnam doesn’t meet these requirement, they’ll face meaningful consequences. It will level the playing field, strengthen standards overseas and open other markets to goods and services.”
Obama said TPP comes as outsourcing has been reversed to in-sourcing.
“Companies are starting to move back here…and this trade deal will help increase that,” he said. “You heard today that more Nike products would be made in the U.S. I’ve spent six and a half years trying to rescue this economy and continue to work to make it fully recovered. I wouldn’t risk that. This trade deal will enhance it and advance it.”
Obama also brought up the issue that “somehow this is a secret deal.”
“That’s simply not true,” he said. “Any agreement we finalize will have to be posted online for 60 days and then it will have to go to Congress and you know they’re not going to do anything fast. It’s not fast track, it’s deliberate track. They’re making stuff up. No trade agreement is going to make us change our laws. If you are opposed to these smart, progressive trade deals, then you must be satisfied with the status quo, and the status quo hasn’t been working for our small businesses.”
Obama pledged: “If any agreement undercuts working families, I won’t sign it.
“We can’t stop the global economy on our shores,” he added. “We have to seize the moment. Nike, we do not just have the best athletes in the world, we have the best workers and businesses in the world. And when the playing field is level, nobody beats the United States of America.”