WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is enlisting the help of national security and military experts to make the strategic and geopolitical case for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, as the economic argument for the agreement has hit some headwinds.
Senior security and military officials were invited to a White House meeting on TPP on Tuesday and some officials later joined the top trade chief to outline not only the national security benefits of the trade deal, but also the downside risks of failing to ratify and enact it.
Administration officials, facing deepening opposition to the pact on Capitol Hill, among the presidential candidates and in the public, warned of negative repercussions if Congress does not pass TPP.
“There is a lot at stake here both economically and strategically and that’s why the president is so committed to getting TPP ratified,” U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said on a call with reporters. “TPP is a concrete manifestation of our rebalancing strategy toward Asia and it’s a powerful signal to the world that the United States is a leading force for prosperity and security across the region.”
Citing a study from the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Froman said Americans will “pay a steep price” in lost income and lack of gains in exports for even a one-year delay in implementing the trade pact — an estimated $94 billion or $700 per U.S. household.
“But the true costs of delay are much higher when you consider the strategic stakes,” Froman said. “Of all the strategic benefits of passing TPP, [establishing] rules of the road consistent with our interests and values, strengthening our partners and allies, boosting sustainable development — those are all put at risk the longer that we wait.”
International trade ministers signed TPP in early February. It includes the U.S., Australia, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Vietnam, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, Chile, Brunei and New Zealand and aims to remove barriers to trade to encompass nearly 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product if enacted.
But the deal faces opposition from key Republican leaders in Congress, all but one of the Republican and Democratic presidential contenders, labor and environmental groups and growing numbers of the American public.
Obama has said he will need to cobble together a bipartisan coalition, including GOP leadership, to get the trade pact passed. He has support from major business trade groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers.
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes outlined in stark terms how the failure of enacting TPP would affect the U.S.’ standing in the world, particularly in the Asia Pacific.
“To put it very simply, TPP is widely viewed in the Asia Pacific as a test of America’s staying power in the region,” Rhodes said. “The countries of the Asia-Pacific are watching very closely whether or not we’re capable of following through on our commitments to rebalance the Asia-Pacific. They have a very large and growing neighbor in China and given China’s proximity to other countries of the Asia-Pacific region, they want a concrete manifestation that the United States is here to stay and is not going to be distracted by other issues and is not going to be unable to follow through on our commitments because of domestic political considerations.”
Rhodes warned if the U.S. is unable to enact TPP, the region will “suffer.”
“Our ability to promote our economic and commercial interests will suffer, and it is quite likely that a number of countries in the region will move away from an alignment with the U.S. and start looking to other places as the sources of influence in region,” Rhodes said.
Against the backdrop of all of the leading candidates in the presidential campaign opposing TPP as it is currently written, the officials were asked if the Obama administration has lost the argument on the economic benefits of TPP for the U.S. and for ordinary Americans.
“From the very start, if you go back two or three years, you will see we’ve been making the case that TPP is first and foremost justified on its economic merits and I think we’ve won that case,” Froman said.
He argued that the case for the strategic benefits of TPP isn’t a “new theme” and pointed to the steps officials have taken to emphasize both the economic and strategic benefits of the trade pact.
“Ultimately…what [Congressional] members care most care about is how this benefits their state, their district and their constituents,” Froman said. “[In] our conversations with them, as we’ve gone through how it will eliminate 18,000 taxes on exports, benefit small- and medium-size businesses, as well as larger businesses in their districts; how it will level the playing field for their workers; how we’re opening market for agriculture exports; how we’re raising standards in other countries…I think they’ve actually been quite persuaded by that and [understand] that the strategic argument supplements that.”
Froman added that officials have been addressing concerns raised by lawmakers and have made progress but acknowledged there is more work to be done.
He said he is confident the issues will be resolved, allowing TPP to move forward in Congress this year.