WASHINGTON — President Obama sought to garner support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal from tens of thousands of eBay sellers on Thursday, while two of his top trade lieutenants defended the trade deal and touted the economic benefits it will bring for all 50 states.
The move was part of the administration’s continued push to sell the TPP to the public and to members of Congress, who are divided over the pact and are expected to vote on it sometime next year.
Trade ministers reached a deal in early October on TPP, which includes the U.S., Japan, Mexico, Canada, Vietnam, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, Chile, Brunei, Australia and New Zealand. The agreement seeks to eliminate duties, strengthen labor and environmental provisions, ease the flow of cross-border trade and strengthen intellectual property protections.
Congress is expected to consider TPP in the middle of the presidential election next year and the trade deal has already drawn criticism and opposition from key Republican candidates, all three Democratic ones, and labor and environmental groups. It has drawn support from many business groups, including in the apparel and textile industry.
Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, responding to a question on a press call on Thursday, said she disagreed with criticism voiced by the Democratic presidential candidates, including comments that TPP will lead to more U.S. job losses and weaken labor standards and wages.
“First of all, I disagree with their conclusions,” Pritzker said, noting that the countries in the Asia-Pacific region involved in TPP are home to the fastest-growing middle class in the world, estimated to grow to 3.2 billion from 500 million in the next 15 years.
“Our companies need to have access to those markets in order to remain globally competitive,” Pritzker said.
She pointed to data in newly released reports outlining how TPP can benefit each state and said the trade pact presents opportunities for U.S. companies to export.
“I think it’s not only creating jobs — the data shows that for every $1 billion of additional exports, it creates 5,000 to 7,000 jobs,” Pritzker said. “It’s also good business for our companies to participate in the fastest growing marketplace in the world. Frankly if they don’t, ultimately they’ll get left behind and could potentially end up competing with others who are providing similar products. So this is extremely important.”
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, who was also on the call, stressed that the U.S. is not the only country making trade deals with the Asia-Pacific region and warned it could be left behind if TPP is not enacted.
“While we face a 20 percent tariff on certain machinery into Vietnam or Malaysia, China faces 5 percent or zero percent tariffs on the same products. If we want to maintain and grow our market share in the region, we need to move forward,” Froman said. “If [countries like Vietnam or Malaysia] have high tariffs, it creates more of an incentive for us to have to move production to those countries in order to serve those markets. We can tear down those tariffs then and we can keep production here in the United States and export from here.”
Pritzker said U.S. businesses sold $726.5 billion in goods to TPP countries last year, up 59 percent from 2009. U.S. services exports to TPP partner countries hit $169.4 billion, registering a 35 percent increase over the same five-year period.
“As a nation, 45 percent of our exports already go to TPP partners, which support 3.1 million U.S. jobs,” Pritzker said. “These numbers will only increase as businesses of all sizes take advantage of the market-access opportunities presented by TPP.”
The Commerce Department released updated economic reports, building on similar studies released last month, that outlined the current trade each state has with TPP partner countries, the number of small companies exporting to those nations and the number of jobs supported by the trade.
Meanwhile, a letter penned by Obama sent to 600,000 eBay users touted the deal as a way to help online sellers by preserving a free and open Internet, promoting new e-commerce rules and tearing down trade barriers for small business owners.
“It’s businesses like yours that helped us sell a record-breaking $2.34 trillion in exports around the world last year, which supported nearly 12 million jobs here at home,” Obama wrote. “However, while many on eBay are selling abroad, fewer than 5 percent of American small businesses are selling their products in foreign markets — and most who do export only sell to one country. That’s got to change.”
Obama said the number of people connecting to the Internet has nearly doubled to three billion in the last six years, with the fastest growth occurring in developing countries in Southeast Asia.
“In fact, TPP trading partners are home to over 300 million Internet users, and they’re looking to connect and buy from sellers like you,” Obama said. “A free and open Internet will be vital to enabling tens of thousands of American small business the opportunity to sell to the full measure of consumers who are connected to the Internet — not just those with a locally required Internet provider.”
Obama added that “under this agreement, companies and consumers can access and move data freely without facing arbitrary blocking of Web sites.”