- The Washington Times
Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Facing uncertain prospects in Congress for his Asia-Pacific trade deal amid rising competition from China, President Obama told world leaders at a meeting in the Philippines Wednesday that it’s “critical” for their countries to approve the pact quickly.

At a summit with the heads of state of the 11 other partners in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Mr. Obama said the leaders must work to ensure that the deal is “enacted in each of our countries as swiftly as possible.” Negotiators released the final text of the agreement last month.

“Execution is critical after we have arrived at the text,” Mr. Obama said at the meeting in Manila. “This is not easy to do. The politics of any trade agreement are difficult.”

The politics are especially difficult in Washington, where many of Mr. Obama’s fellow Democrats and their labor allies oppose the deal, and some influential Republicans appear to be wavering. New House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has been noncommittal since the agreement was announced, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch of Utah said he has serious concerns, even though both lawmakers helped to win passage of fast-track negotiating authority for Mr. Obama last summer.

China, which is not among the signatories to the TPP, is promoting its rival Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific, a trade zone that Chinese President Xi Jinping pushed among leaders at the summit.

“With various new regional free-trade arrangements cropping up, there have been worries about the potential of fragmentation,” Mr. Xi said. “We therefore need to accelerate the realization of FTAAP and take regional economic integration forward.”

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The Chinese leader faced some pointed questions as well at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Manila in light of his country’s economic and financial stumbles in recent months, raising fears that the region’s main engine of growth was facing a slowdown.

In a speech to a business conference on the sidelines of the APEC gathering, Mr. Xi acknowledged the “difficulties and challenges,” but insisted Beijing is committed to overhauling its export-driven economy and raising the living standards of its people.

“China’s positive economic fundamentals and long-term trajectory remain unchanged,” he said. “China’s economy has strong resilience, great potential and ample room for maneuvering.”

Mr. Obama views his free-trade deal as a counter to China’s influence in the region, and the centerpiece of his foreign-policy “pivot” to Asia.

But many traditionally pro-trade U.S. business groups have yet to endorse the pact, and the AFL-CIO has said its labor membership will fight the agreement. Democratic 2016 front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, who praised the TPP while serving as secretary of state, has flip-flopped against the deal as she courts organized labor. And some GOP presidential candidates, including front-runner Donald Trump, oppose the pact.

Activists who oppose the TPP have been holding protests in Washington this week, demonstrating at corporate offices, such as the investment firm Morgan Stanley, and blocking traffic downtown.

Mr. Obama told leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit that the TPP “is at the heart of our shared vision for the future of this dynamic region.”

“We want all countries to pursue their interests and prosperity peacefully, based on common rules of the road on an open, level playing field — a fair trade,” the president said. “This is the highest standard and most progressive trade deal ever concluded.”

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the release of the agreement’s final text and his government’s cost-benefit analysis, to be made public next week, will help dispel opposition to the trade pact.

“I think there is a lot of disinformation that has been spread around,” he told reporters at the summit. “All bilateral and multilateral [trade agreements] have resulted in significant increase in total trade.”

The deal cannot be signed until after Feb. 3, the end of a 90-day congressional review period. Among the nations that are parties to the pact are Japan, Vietnam, Mexico, Canada and Australia.

Mr. Obama noted that the participants in the TPP carry out about a third of all global trade.

“So this isn’t [just] about boosting exports between our countries in the Asia-Pacific,” the president said. “The TPP is also helping to write the rules of global trade for the 21st century.”

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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