- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Under pressure from Canada and Mexico to move forward on a huge free trade agreement, President Obama tried to deflect blame Wednesday from congressional Democrats who are vehemently opposed to the deal.

“It’s not accurate to say my party opposes this trade deal,” Mr. Obama said of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership that has been criticized by most Democrats in Congress. “There are elements in my party that oppose this trade deal.”

Those “elements” include Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who refuses to bring up a bill to grant Mr. Obama the authority to expedite the pact, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, who vowed last week not to approve the legislation.

Mr. Obama has been pushing for the free trade pact that would cover 11 other nations, including Canada, Mexico, Australia and Japan. But 151 House Democrats have written a letter in opposition to granting Mr. Obama “fast-track” trade authority to complete the deal, fearful that it would lead to the loss of union jobs in the U.S. and weaken environmental standards.

At a summit in Toluca, Mexico, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke in favor of the TPP, saying it would create jobs and growth in their countries. The discussion came on the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was panned at the time by labor groups in the U.S. as a killer of union jobs.

“We are wanting to see and committed to seeing a good, comprehensive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement,” Mr. Harper said. “I think it’s in all of our interests. I’m not going to comment on the process in Congress.”

Mr. Obama said he told both leaders “we’ll get this passed, if it’s a good agreement.”

“The key point … is to make sure that our countries, which hold ourselves up as champions of free trade, resolve our legitimate national interests in these negotiations, so that we can present a united front against a number of other participants in the TPP negotiations who don’t have as much of a tradition of free trade,” Mr. Obama said.

The president said the trade deal must be a “model of trade that is free and fair and open.”

“We can only do that if we raise the bar,” he said. “I’ve said this to some of my own constituents who are opposed to trade. Those who are concerned about losing jobs or outsourcing need to understand some of the old agreements put us at a disadvantage; that’s exactly why we’ve got to have stronger agreements.”

Compared with trade, immigration was a less-discussed topic at the one-day summit. Mr. Obama said only that he reiterated to his counterparts that comprehensive immigration reform in Congress remains his priority “because it will grow the U.S. economy and make the United States more attractive to investment, and because we have to do right by our families and our values.”

Mr. Pena Nieto said he wants to increase the number of Mexican exchange students who study in the U.S. from 14,000 annually to 100,000. He also said the leaders agreed to “standardize and expedite all the procedures” at customs houses at the borders.

The three leaders also agreed to create a “trusted travelers” program to allow vetted individuals to travel more easily among the three countries.

Earlier, Mr. Obama spoke of his fondness for Mexico, saying some of his dearest friends have Mexican heritage.

“For me, this is very personal,” Mr. Obama said. “Some my closest advisers and allies and political friends are the children of Mexican immigrants who have made an extraordinary life and contribution in the United States.”

Mr. Obama joked with Mr. Harper that, although his brother-in-law is a Canadian citizen, he might need to set aside his friendliness for Canada until after the Winter Olympics, during which the North American ice hockey powers will face off. Their men’s teams play in the semifinals Friday, and their women face off for the gold medal Thursday.

“For a very brief period of time, I may not feel as warmly toward Canadians as I normally do, at least until those matches are over,” Mr. Obama said.

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