Obama vows to stand by Asia-Pacific trade deal in face of opposition

US President Barack Obama is defending a trade deal that would group the United States with 11 Asia-Pacific countries, with the proposed agreement under fire from presidential candidates of both major political parties.

"The answer cannot be to back away from trade in the global economy," Obama said after a White House meeting with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday. "It's not possible to cut ourselves off."

The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement will open up markets to more US goods, increase labour and environmental standards and help bolster stability in a key region of the world, Obama said.

He expressed confidence that he can get the deal approved by Congress later this year, despite opposition from his own Democrats, including presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and from Republican candidate Donald Trump.

Clinton and Trump have both sought to tap into anti-trade sentiment, particularly among working class voters who have seen a decline in manufacturing jobs.

Trump's campaign sent out an email during Obama's press conference saying that electing him "is the only way to stop TPP catastrophe." In the message, the Republican nominee charged that the deal "will kill millions of jobs."

Trump's protectionist policies are in contrast to the conservative party's traditionally free-trade leanings. Clinton supported TPP while secretary of state under Obama from 2009-2013, but changed course during the Democratic Party primaries when she came under fire on the issue from left-wing challenger Bernie Sanders.

Obama acknowledged problems with trade deals that had cost some jobs while adding others, but said "the answer is not cutting off globalization," and promised his TPP deal addressed many of the concerns of past deals.

Lee called the deal to which Singapore is a signatory an "integral component of America's rebalance to Asia" and called for the US Congress to ratify the agreement.

"We are near the finish line, and we hope the countries, particularly the US, would be able to ratify the TPP as soon as possible," he said.

Lee noted that many Asian governments had risked a lot of their own political capital to pursue the deal, and alliances would be damaged if the US were to back out.

"If at the end, waiting at the altar, the bride doesn't arrive, there are going to be people who are going to be hurt," Lee said.

Obama is hosting Lee for a pomp-filled official visit marking 50 years of diplomatic relations between the countries that included a welcome ceremony on the White House's South Lawn and is scheduled to feature a state dinner.

"As the United States has rebalanced our foreign policy to the Asia-Pacific, Singapore and Prime Minister Lee in particular had been solid rock partners," Obama said.

"We stand together for a regional order where every nation, large and small, plays and trades by the same rules, and we stand together to meet the threats of the 21st century - from terrorism to the spread of disease to climate change," the US president said.

Lee noted that Singapore founder Lee Kuan Yew was the first prime minister to officially visit Washington at the invitation of president Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1967.

He said the US-Singapore relationship had remained steadfast over nine US administrations and said that Singapore "fervently" hoped the US would "stay engaged and maintain its indispensable role" in the Asia-Pacific region.

Last update: Tue, 02/08/2016 - 23:30

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