WASHINGTON – The Obama administration kept up its public relations offensive for free trade agreements in Europe and the Pacific Rim on Thursday, announcing state-by-state exports to nations participating in negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
From 2012 to 2014, Minnesota businesses averaged $10.2 billion annually in exports to TPP markets, the White House said. The state exported about $4.2 billion of goods and services a year to TTIP markets in the same time frame.
The news comes as the president pushes Congress to approve trade promotion authority legislation that he says will give U.S. negotiators the needed latitude to strike deals. The legislation has foundered in recent years as some members of the House and Senate worried that limiting their input into the specifics of the trade agreements could cost their constituents jobs.
In a meeting with regional reporters Thursday, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said the administration is working to line up bipartisan support for a trade promotion authority bill. Froman said that successfully negotiating the TPP and TTIP and getting congressional approval of both could give American businesses "unfettered access" to two-thirds of the world's economy.
But on the very day Froman sang the praises of free trade, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., published an op-ed in the Washington Post attacking a part of the TPP that allows for out-of-court international arbitration of disagreements over the trade deal, called "Investor-State Dispute Settlement," or ISDS.
If the international arbitration panels ruled in favor of foreign companies, the ruling could not be challenged in a U.S. court, Warren said.
Froman said the arbitration power was designed to keep foreign governments from seizing private assets without compensating the companies that lost them.
But Warren's latest op-ed and the failure of Congress to pass a trade promotion authority bill since 2002 shows the difficulties the White House faces in getting the House and Senate on board with free trade measures. From the left, many labor unions oppose the trade deals; from the right, so do some who believe the U.S. should take care of its own citizens before enriching those in other countries.
Speaking to reporters, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez addressed the fear of many American workers that free trade agreements cost American jobs. Trade deals will open markets by ending tariffs. But the deals also will set standards for wages and working conditions that will make American producers competitive, and perhaps even preferable, in the international market.
Perez called TPP "a renegotiation" of the 20-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement known as NAFTA. Job protections that were part of side agreements in NAFTA did not work as well as they should have, Perez said. TPP and TTIP will "bake in" enforcement mechanisms that were missing from earlier trade deals, he said.
Meanwhile, Perez and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker each noted feedback from Minnesota businesses and farmers anxious to expand into international markets where the vast majority of new consumers live.
Free trade agreements are, said Pritzker, "an opportunity to produce here and sell there."
The middle class in Asia now numbers about 550 million, she said. However, in coming years that number could swell to more than 2 billion.
"We can't afford to have Minneapolis left out of that market opportunity," she said.