Obama Says He Expects Progress on Asia, Europe Trade Deals

Obama Delivers Message of Unity to European Leaders
  • An Asia deal should get a vote in Congress after the primaries
  • Pact with Europe may be negotiated by end of the year

President Barack Obama said he expects the U.S. Congress to vote on a trade deal with Asia-Pacific nations after the primary season over, and that his administration will complete negotiations on a similar pact with the European Union by the end of his presidency.

“When we’re in the heat of campaigns people are naturally going to worry more about what’s lost than what’s gained, with respect to trade agreements,” Obama said Sunday at a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Hanover. The leaders appeared at the opening of the Hanover Messe, which bills itself as the world’s leading trade show for industrial technology. “I’m confident we are going to be able to get this done,” Obama said.

White House officials say the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, which would reduce tariffs on scores of products traded between the U.S. and European Union, remains a top priority for the president. Still, negotiators in both the U.S. and Europe acknowledge the prospects for ratification of the deal are essentially non-existent until the next administration.

‘Political Transitions’

“I don’t anticipate that we’ll be able to have completed ratification of a deal by the end of the year, but I do anticipate we can have completed the agreement,” Obama said of the European pact. If not, Obama said later in a speech at the trade show, “political transitions could mean this agreement is not concluded for quite some time.”

“TTIP is a treaty that establishes standards in a very special way, so I want to very strongly express my support for using this window of time,” Merkel said in comments to the same audience. “It won’t come back anytime soon. So let’s work on this together.”

Congress has yet to vote on a trade deal Obama negotiated last year with 11 Asia-Pacific nations, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Many lawmakers in Obama’s own party oppose the accord.

“After the primary season is over the politics settle down a little bit in Congress, and we’ll be in a position to start moving forward,” Obama said.

Warren’s Challenge

The president dismissed criticism of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions in trade deals, which let companies challenge domestic laws in front of international arbitration panels. Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat who at one point worked in the Obama administration, has said such provisions are a dangerous challenge to sovereignty and could allow the erosion of public health and environmental protections.

But Obama said “the terrible scenarios that are painted” haven’t materialized under current trade agreements that include such provisions. “None of these things have happened with the many trade agreements that currently exist,” Obama said.

Corporate leaders say they’re thankful Obama is trying to set the table on trade for the next president. The Hanover Messe trade show, with 300 U.S. companies and 70 U.S. economic development organizations expected to participate, provides Obama and Merkel an opportunity to highlight the benefits of cross-Atlantic trade.

Networked World

Obama’s attendance at the show sends a message to the business community that “the president of the United States believes industrial production is important,” Siegfried Russwurm, chief technology officer of Munich-based Siemens AG, said in a phone interview. “Hanover is a great opportunity to show how networked our world is, and sometimes politicians appreciate that reminder.”

At a town hall with British youth on Saturday, Obama said the trade deal could create “millions of jobs and billions of dollars of benefits on both sides of the Atlantic.”

“The main thing between the United States and Europe is trying to just break down some of the regulatory differences that make it difficult to do business back and forth,” he said.

The president’s visit may exacerbate concerns about the trade deal among some factions in Germany that are nervous it could open public services to foreign investments, endanger family farms and tacitly allow the monitoring of online activities.

In his remarks at the trade fair, Obama acknowledged that some farmers and workers have felt the costs of trade deals “without necessarily seeing or feeling the benefit.”

“These anxieties are real, and at a time of growing inequality in many advanced economies we have to address them,” he said.

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