Kerry Extols Pacific Trade Deal Opposed by Clinton and Trump

By Patrick Goodenough | September 29, 2016 | 4:44 AM EDT

Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech on the Trans-Pacific Partnership at the Wilson Center in Washington on Wednesday, September 28, 2016. Wilson Center president and CEO Jane Harman looks on. (Photo: State Department)

( – Secretary of State John Kerry made a fervent case Wednesday for the “landmark” Trans-Pacific Partnership, but left unsaid the fact both Republican and Democratic presidential nominees have voiced opposition to a trade deal that President Obama hopes to make an economic capstone of his presidency.

“I’m out of politics, so I’m not in the business right now of engaging with the candidates,” Kerry said in response to a question after an address at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

“But I made the speech today because there is an important debate taking place across America, and it is important for people to hear the facts, which I think I’ve laid out today very clearly,” he added.

Earlier Wednesday House Speaker Paul Ryan said – as he has done before more than once – that he does not think there are the votes to get Congress to pass the TPP this year.

Supporters have voiced the hope it may get through the lame duck Congress, a hope reiterated by Kerry and by Wilson Center president and CEO Jane Harman immediately after he spoke.

“I hope that in a few weeks when the election is over and Congress returns to Washington to finish the people’s business, it will take up and approve TPP and take other steps to preserve, protect, and defend the best interests of our beloved country,” Kerry said.

Harman, a former Democratic congresswoman from California, said, “the problem is the rhetoric in this campaign and the misimpression, as Secretary Kerry said, that trade and especially TPP will take American jobs.”

Lawmakers need to understand that “jobs will grow, not disappear,” she added.

“Congress I hope will vote in the lame duck session, though there is no indication yet by the leadership that the issue will be put up for a vote.”

The TPP, which groups the U.S. and 11 other nations on either side of the Pacific, has supporters and opponents in both parties in Congress, but both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have come out in opposition. Advocates worry that failure to approve the deal before the end of Obama’s presidency could see it die.

In his speech, Kerry said the TTP was both about boosting the U.S. economy and deepening trade ties, and about strengthening U.S. national security and leadership in a crucial region.

“We can’t just stand up and say to the world, ‘Hey, we’re a Pacific power.’ We have to show it in our actions and in our choices,” he said.

“We can’t talk about the ‘rebalance’ to Asia one day and then sit on the sidelines the next, and expect to possibly send a credible message to partners and to potential partners around the world.”

Kerry pointed out that TPP partners included key partners in responded to two major challenges in the region touching on U.S. national security – North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, and disputes in the South China Sea.

“The inescapable bottom line is that, with TPP, we will be far better positioned to enhance our national security and to protect our interests in the globe’s most dynamic region than we will be without this agreement.”

Negotiations for the TPP began when Clinton was secretary of state, and she spoke enthusiastically about the agreement at the time, saying in 2012 that it set “the gold standard in trade agreements.

On other occasions Clinton as secretary of state said the TPP “will lower trade barriers, raise labor and environmental standards, and drive growth across the region,” and “establish strong protections for workers and the environment.”

But three months after launching her presidential primary campaign – in which her socialist opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, pledged to “lead the effort to defeat” the TPP – she came out against the deal.

In Monday night’s debate Trump – who has called the TPP “horrible” and “one of the worst trade deals” – accused his Democratic rival of flip-flopping on the issue.

“You called it the gold standard of trade deals,” Trump charged. “You said it’s the finest deal you’ve ever seen. And all of a sudden you were against it.”

Clinton responded: “The facts are I did say I hoped it would be a good deal, but when it was negotiated – which I was not responsible for – I concluded it wasn’t.”

Her stance on the trade deal is a rare instance where the candidate is disassociated herself from a key policy of Obama’s, and the administration in which she served.

In the debate she did so carefully. Asked by Trump several times whether the TPP as negotiated was “President Obama’s fault,” Clinton responded, “There are different views about what is good for our country, our economy, and our leadership in the world …”

‘I’ll oppose it after the election, and I’ll oppose it as president’

Some TPP critics worry that Clinton, if she wins the election, may shift position again and support the deal once in office.

When asked about that during a primary debate in New Hampshire early this year, she seemed to leave the door open, saying “there are changes that I believe would make a real difference if they could be achieved, but I do not currently support it as it is written.”

Later she was less equivocal. Asked in a questionnaire for the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign whether she would, if elected, oppose the lame duck Congress approving the agreement, Clinton replied, “I have said I oppose the TPP agreement – and that means before and after the election.”

And in an August speech in Michigan she said of the TPP, “I oppose it now, I’ll oppose it after the election, and I’ll oppose it as president” – a quote highlighted by the Clinton campaign in a statement this week.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman has said the TPP’s will usher in more than $130 billion a year in estimated GDP growth, and more than $350 billion in additional exports.

Washington’s 11 TPP partners are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow