- The Washington Times - Monday, June 20, 2016

President Obama pushed Monday for passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement that is stuck in Congress, defying anti-trade rhetoric from likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, whom he endorsed.

In a speech at a federally sponsored global business summit in Washington, the president rattled off a list of purported benefits from the deal with 12 Pacific Rim nations.

“When we’ve gotten it done, the Trans-Pacific Partnership will do even more to lower the costs of exporting, eliminating taxes and custom duties and raising intellectual property standards that protect data and ideas and jobs,” Mr. Obama told business leaders at the SelectUSA Summit.

Mr. Obama has made passing the trade deal, know as TPP, a top priority for his last year in office. But he faces strong political headwinds from Mrs. Clinton and presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump, whose opposition to trade agreements could stymie a Republican-run Congress that’s usually pro-free trade.

The president mentioned the trade deal as part of a pitch at the SelectUSA Summit for business investment in the U.S. It was the first in a series of events this week to highlight American business innovation during his presidency.

The massive trade deal — which includes Australia, Japan, Peru, Singapore and New Zealand — is an essential element of the legacy Mr. Obama is attempting to mold before he leaves office Jan. 20.

Congressional leaders have said that the earliest lawmakers will take up TPP is in a lame-duck session after the November election, but even that timetable is in doubt because of the stances of the candidates hoping to succeed Mr. Obama.

The harshest criticism that recent U.S. trade deals have undermined U.S. manufacturing and shipped jobs overseas has come from Mr. Trump. The billionaire businessman has made the issue a centerpiece of his campaign and pledged to use his negotiating skills to broker “smart deals.”

Mrs. Clinton has flip-flopped on the TPP question, but she ultimately sided with opponents and promised to fight to protect American jobs.

Mr. Obama’s speech presented a much rosier picture of the U.S. economy to the business crowd than voters hear from Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton on the campaign trail, where they often give a shoutout to the “struggling middle class.”

“I don’t mind being America’s pitch man,” Mr. Obama said.

He said that globalization does have negative impacts on some workers, but that bringing different countries and cultures together through trade can improve the lives of people around the world.

“This is not just about jobs and trade, it’s not just about hard cold cash,” he said. “It’s also about building relationships across borders. When your companies come together, you help bring countries and cultures together.”

The Obama administration in 2011 created SelectUSA as the country’s first federal effort to bring job-creating investment to the United States and to promoting the United States as the world’s premier business location.

“If you choose a place to expand your portfolio, to place your bets, to open up a plant, to start building the next great new business or service, you would select the USA, because nowhere in the world and never in history has there ever been a better place to grow your business,” Mr. Obama said.

In the speech, the president also pointed to the Obamacare law as a major achievement that promoted business growth.

“Never before have we insured more than 90 percent of our citizens, and we’ve seen the slowest growth in the price of health care in 50 years,” said Mr. Obama.

“That’s important for a whole host of reasons, including the fact that healthier workers are more productive workers, not to mention better consumers. And more affordable health care makes it easier for your businesses to add jobs and pay a good wage,” said the president.

Mr. Obama will cap the week of business-themed events with a panel discussion Friday with Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg at a global entrepreneurship summit at Stanford University.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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