- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2016

President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel promoted free trade Wednesday against a rising tide of opposition that has killed the president’s biggest economic plan, while Mr. Obama attacked President-elect Donald Trump’s protectionist approach to international trade deals as hopelessly backward.

In his last major address on the world stage, Mr. Obama told an audience in Athens, Greece, that a global move toward isolationism illustrated by the election of Mr. Trump cannot succeed in an increasingly connected world.

The president, who has faced nearly unanimous opposition in his own party on trade, also warned that rising inequality is causing “darker forces” to compel voters in many countries to retreat from greater economic integration.

“If people feel they are losing control of their future, they will push back,” Mr. Obama said. “We have seen it here in Greece, we’ve seen it across Europe, we’ve seen it in the United States. We saw it in the vote for Britain to leave” the European Union.

While not criticizing Mr. Trump directly, the president warned about the dangers of nationalism and said the solution is to build more inclusive societies.

“When people have opportunity and they feel confidence in the future, they are less likely to turn on each other and they’re less likely to appeal to some of the darker forces that exist in all our societies, those that can tear us apart,” Mr. Obama said.

The president and Ms. Merkel, writing jointly in a German magazine, said employers, workers and consumers in the U.S. and Germany would “without a doubt” benefit from a free trade deal being negotiated between the European Union and the U.S.

“There will be no return to a world before globalization,” they wrote in a guest piece to be published Friday. “We owe it to our companies and our citizens — and in fact to the whole international community — to broaden and deepen our cooperation.”

Even as Mr. Obama was advocating for greater international cooperation on trade, opponents were celebrating the death of the president’s Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed free trade deal covering the U.S. and 11 other Pacific-rim nations with about 40 percent of the world’s economic output.

The administration conceded late last week that the deal, which was the economic centerpiece of Mr. Obama’s second term, was dead in Congress after painstaking, secretive multinational negotiations spanning seven years.

“The defeat of the TPP offers all of us an important lesson,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “If you decide to craft trade deals behind closed doors that prioritizes multinational corporations over all else, you should expect that deal to be derailed. … The era of the corporate trade deals is over.”

Jared Bernstein, former economic adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden, called it a “fascinating moment” in the debate over globalization and trade.

“I’ve never seen an election in my lifetime where the issues were more elevated, more influential than the one we just concluded,” Mr. Bernstein said in a conference call with reporters.

He said opponents of the TPP shouldn’t “accept the pivot by advocates of the status quo to geopolitical arguments when their economic arguments fail.”

“Elites and their arguments have lost credibility with large swaths of the American electorate,” Mr. Bernstein said.

Among the most objectionable parts of the TPP for opponents was an investor-state dispute settlement provision for resolving complaints when a corporation believes its trade has been harmed by a nation’s laws. Mr. Bernstein said Trans-Canada is using a similar provision to sue the U.S. for $15 billion in damages and penalties for the Obama administration’s cancellation of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

“Fossil fuel corporations are increasingly using the ISDS system to demand payment for climate and environmental policies and to try to deter the enactment of new protections through private and unaccountable tribunals,” he said.

Some of the most vocal opponents of TPP were two of the most prominent progressive voices in Washington: Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, and Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, who made it a central theme in his campaign against Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Mr. Trump said during the campaign that the TPP was unfair to American workers and that he would renegotiate it. Trade promotion authority legislation approved by Congress in 2015 at Mr. Obama’s urging would allow Mr. Trump to bring up a new deal for approval by lawmakers for a simple up-or-down vote, with no opportunities for congressional meddling.

“I think president-elect made it pretty clear that he was not in favor of the current agreement,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “But he has the latitude because TPA is in place through the next administration to negotiate better deals, as I think he would put it, if he chooses to.”

Mr. Trump called on lawmakers to oppose trade promotion authority in June 2015 when several of his Republican presidential primary rivals — Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — voted for it.

“Any senator who votes for it is disqualified for being POTUS,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter at the time. “Protect the American worker and manufacturer!”

In Greece, Mr. Obama said nations that have lost jobs to economic forces such as automation can’t simply bring them back.

“Given the nature of technology, it’s my assertion that it’s not possible to cut ourselves off from one another,” the president said. “We are now living in a global supply chain. We can’t look backward for answers; we have to look forward.”

Mr. Trump’s election sent shock waves through European capitals because of his support of the Brexit vote, which Mr. Obama opposed, and his comments that the U.S. might not come to the aid of NATO members who don’t pay their fair share for the security alliance.

Mr. Obama tried to assure Europeans of the U.S. commitment to NATO and the EU.

“Today’s NATO, the world’s greatest alliance, is as strong and as ready as it’s ever been,” Mr. Obama said.

Despite Britain’s decision to leave the EU, the president said, “Today, more than ever, the world needs a Europe that is strong and prosperous and democratic.

“Even with today’s challenges, I believe that by virtue of the progress it has delivered over the decades, the stability it has provided, the security it has reinforced, that European integration and the European Union remains one of the great political and economic achievements of human history,” Mr. Obama said.

Addressing concerns in Europe about Mr. Trump’s election, the president said, “As you may have noticed, the next American president and I could not be more different.

“We have very different points of view,” Mr. Obama said. “But American democracy is bigger than any one person. In the coming weeks, my administration will do everything we can to support the smoothest transition possible, because that’s how democracy has to work.”

In reassuring his audience about the strengths of American democracy, Mr. Obama said the U.S. system is designed for corrections.

“It allows us to correct for mistakes,” Mr. Obama said. “Any action by a president or any result of an election or any legislation that has proven flawed can be corrected through the process of democracy.”

While Mr. Trump has vowed to reverse many of his predecessor’s executive actions and international agreements, Mr. Obama has been hinting strongly that he believes U.S. voters will quickly tire of the next president.

Mr. Obama toured the Parthenon and the Acropolis in Athens before departing for Germany. He said the key to successful democracies is that “people have to know that they’re being heard.”

“Power and progress will always come from ‘We the People,’” Mr. Obama said. “As long as we are true to that system of self-government, our futures will be bright.”

⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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