The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative this week published the Obama administration’s 2015 “Made in America” Trade Policy Agenda, which “seeks to promote growth, support more well-paying jobs in the United States, and strengthen the middle class.”
At the outset, the document says that: “Trade has played an indispensable role in America’s recovery from the Great Recession. Since the end of the recession in mid-2009, the increase in U.S. exports has contributed nearly one-third of our overall economic growth. Last year, U.S. exports reached $2.35 trillion, a record-breaking amount that supported over 11 million good-paying American jobs. With those jobs paying up to 18 percent more than jobs not related to exports, trade policy has an important role to play in raising wages and living standards for the middle class.”
While the agenda includes an array of small-scale initiatives aimed at boosting exports, especially in rural communities, most of its focus is spent on recapping negotiating progress that has been made so far on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreements, in addition to making the economic and national security arguments in support of them, strongly emphasizing their importance to America’s standing in the world and the negative consequences of inaction. Inveterate critics like Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, predictably accuse the administration of “recycling the usual platitudes and distorted data” to make its case.
President Obama has been actively promoting the trade agenda since December, but stepped up efforts recently with a coordinated media blitz hoping to sell an increasingly skeptical public on the benefits of expanded “free trade” with both Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. The president has argued that the expansive 12-nation TPP deal would “unlock economic opportunity” in fast-growing Asian markets at a time when the U.S. is facing aggressive competition from low-cost manufacturers in China.
Much of Obama’s media outreach on trade has been strategically focused on the home-states of potential Democratic allies as he seeks the majority needed to obtain Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) from Congress that would enable the administration to “fast-track” trade negotiations on the TPP. Trade being one of the few areas of common ground between Obama and Republicans, most of the opposition to granting TPA has been from within the president’s own party. Backed by a coalition of progressive advocacy groups and organized labour, hostile to what they call “another race-to-the-bottom trade agreement that empowers companies to offshore jobs,” many Democrats have vowed to fight “tooth and nail” against fast-tracking TPP.