In our opinion: Obama falters on free trade, comes back from Asia empty-handed

Published: Friday, May 2 2014 4:42 p.m. MDT

President Barack Obama stands with his hand over his heart as the National Anthem is played with Japanese Emperor Akihito, right, and his wife Empress Michiko, left, during a state dinner at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Thursday, April 24, 2014. Showing solidarity with Japan, Obama affirmed Thursday that the U.S. would be obligated to defend Tokyo in a confrontation with Beijing over a set of disputed islands, but urged all sides to resolve the long-running dispute peacefully. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Carolyn Kaster, ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Obama has been pushing for the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement in the Pacific Rim. He said the agreement “is going to be the right thing to do — creating jobs, creating businesses, expanding opportunity for the United States.” We agree with him. A majority of Americans do, too. A recent Pew Research Center survey tracked support for the TPP at 55 percent, with only 25 percent opposed and the rest having no opinion.

This should come as no surprise as protectionism in a global economy tends to do more harm than good. But what is surprising is how much opposition the Obama administration is facing on the TPP, both at home and abroad.

As the president concluded his weeklong Asian tour, he returned home without making any significant progress in advancing the accord among nations that would be included in the deal. Malaysian protesters demonstrated against the TPP and complained that the White House was “bullying” the Southeast Asian nation into accepting the deal. This put the president on the defensive, causing him to lash out at “conspiracy theories” and “political aggravation” in Pacific Rim countries and in his own party.

Indeed, the Democratic Party has opposed granting the president the necessary “fast-track” authority he needs to negotiate the agreement effectively. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., has refused to bring the measure up for a Senate vote. In the House, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., issued a news release saying she is “happy that there was no breakthrough” in the TPP negotiations.

The TPP isn’t the only trade agreement under consideration. The Obama administration is eager to strike a deal with the European Union to open new markets there, too. Negotiations on that agreement are at a standstill. The president’s ineffectiveness in moving the Asian deal forward looms large on the stage of the world economy. It is unlikely that he’ll make any progress on other trade pacts unless he’s able to defuse the controversy that has engulfed the TPP.

Resolution of the opposition’s concerns will require both patience and persuasion, along with an unwavering commitment to get something done. We hope that the Obama administration will rise to the occasion of filling its stated objectives on free trade agreements. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is in the best interests of the nation at large. It’s time to find a more positive and effective way of doing it.

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