A criticism I hear a lot is that the Obama adminstration is not doing enough on trade, in particular in relation to domestic trade politics. Not having worked in this area, I have trouble evaluating this argument. How much are they actually doing? How much should they be doing? What did past administrations do? The answers are not very clear to me.
Q Mr. President, almost everyone agrees that U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman is doing a herculean job of driving trade agreements around the world. It seems to be common sense that more access to global trade is good for the creation of U.S. jobs. How can we get TPA passed so that Michael can have the clear support that he needs to drive these agreements?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’m going to be talking to McConnell and Boehner, Reid and Pelosi, and making a strong case on the merits as to why this has to get done. It is somewhat challenging because of a factor that I mentioned earlier, which is Americans feeling as if their wages and incomes have stagnated.
And there’s a half-truth that is magnified I think in the discussions around trade that global competition has contributed to some of that wage stagnation. It's an appealing argument. I think when you look at the numbers, it's actually an incorrect argument that over time, growth, investment, exports all have increased the capacity for working families to improve their economic standing. But I say it's a half-truth because there’s no doubt that some manufacturing moved offshore in the wake of China entering the WTO and as a consequence of NAFTA.
Now, more of those jobs were lost because of automation and capital investment, but there’s a narrative there that makes for some tough politics. We have to be able to talk directly to the public about why trade is good for America, good for American businesses and good for American workers. And we have to dispel some of the myths.
Part of the argument that I’m making to Democrats is, don’t fight the last war -- you already have. If somebody is wanting to outsource, if any of the companies here wanted to locate in China, you’ve already done it. If you wanted to locate in a low-wage country with low labor standards and low environmental standards, there hasn’t been that much preventing you from doing so. And, ironically, if we are able to get Trans-Pacific Partnership done, then we’re actually forcing some countries to boost their labor standards, boost their environmental standards, boost transparency, reduce corruption, increase intellectual property protection. And so all that is good for us.
Those who oppose these trade deals ironically are accepting a status quo that is more damaging to American workers. And I’m going to have to engage directly with our friends in labor and our environmental organizations and try to get from them why it is that they think that -- for example, Mike is in a conversation with Vietnam, one of the potential signatories to the TPP. Right now, there are no labor rights in Vietnam. I don’t know how it’s good for labor for us to tank a deal that would require Vietnam to improve its laws around labor organization and safety. I mean, we’re not punishing them somehow by leaving them out of something like this. Let’s bring them in.
On the environmental front, I haven’t looked carefully at the environmental laws in Malaysia recently, but I suspect they’re not as strong as they are here. It’s not a bad thing for us to nudge them in a better direction, particularly since we now know that environmental problems somewhere else in the world are going to ultimately affect us.
So I think that there are folks in my own party and in my own constituency that have legitimate complaints about some of the trend lines of inequality, but are barking up the wrong tree when it comes to opposing TPP, and I’m going to have to make that argument.
But I will tell you, though, when you talk to Boehner and McConnell, that some of those same anti-trade impulses are more ascendant in the Republican Party than they might have been 20 years ago as well. And some of you may have encountered those in some of your conversations. And this was why it goes back to the point -- we’re not going to get trade done, we’re not going to get infrastructure done, we’re not going to get anything done in this town until we’re able to describe to the average American worker how at some level this is improving their wages, it’s giving them the ability to save for retirement, it’s improving their financial security.
If people continue to feel like Democrats are looking after poor folks and Republicans are looking after rich folks and nobody is looking after me, then we don’t get a lot of stuff done. And the trend lines evidence the fact that folks have gotten squeezed. And obviously, 2007, 2008 really ripped open for people how vulnerable they were.
I'm not sure if this qualifies as making the case for trade agreements, but at the least, he is making the case for why we should make the case for trade agreements.