A top US business leader urged US President Barack Obama to pursue a much more ambitious trade agenda or risk falling behind other countries in opening up new markets for exports.
US Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue proposed pursuing bilateral free trade agreements with India, Brazil and Egypt, and seeking to liberalize trade in services among members of the World Trade Organization.
“Incredibly some are suggesting we must now take another ‘time out,’ on trade until after the 2012 (U.S.) election. That would be a huge mistake. The rest of the world is racing ahead and enacting deals with each other,” Donohue said in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser newspaper, Reuters reports.
Obama and leaders of the other 20 member economies of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum are holding their annual summit this weekend in Honolulu, where they are exploring ways to boost trade in green technology goods and reduce regulatory barriers that impede business.
The meeting comes fast on the heels of US congressional approval of three long-delayed trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. Obama had held up the deals for years as his administration worked to resolve concerns raised by fellow Democrats and labor unions about the pacts.
But even with the changes made to the three deals, Obama still disappointed supporters who believed he promised a much more profound change in U.S. trade policy.
“I think there was definitely a gap between what candidate Obama said in some of the battleground states during the primary season and what President Obama did when he came into office,” said Thea Lee, deputy chief of staff for the 12.2-million-member AFL-CIO labor federation.
“He definitely sees these trade agreements as being … an integral part of his jobs plan … We disagree. We think they’re more likely to cost jobs than to create jobs, no net,” Lee told the Reuters Washington Summit, adding that Obama’s embrace of trade deals could hurt him in next year’s election.
Nine of the APEC countries — the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Chile and Peru — are expected to say on Saturday that they have reached the broad outlines of a proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal but more work was needed to reach a final pact.
“At APEC we want to take the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement to the next level,” White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters at a White House briefing.
Donohue said in the opinion piece that he applauded the TPP negotiators for pursuing a high-standard agreement that goes beyond cutting tariffs into new areas such as making supply chains function more predictably and efficiently. He also expressed hope Japan and Canada could join the TPP talks.
Expectations are high that Japan might announce this week it wants to join the TPP. That prompted four senior US lawmakers on Tuesday to urge the Obama administration not to agree to that before consulting with Congress and making sure Japan is truly committed to opening its markets.
The AFL-CIO is still waiting to see the final terms of the TPP agreement before taking a position on the pact. But adding Japan to the negotiations “does raise the level of concern,” especially for U.S. autoworkers, Lee said.
Donohue expressed concern the fast-approaching November 2012 presidential and congressional elections might discourage the White House from seeking additional trade agreements, which often face strong opposition within Obama’s Democratic Party because they are seen as helping move jobs overseas.
In contrast to Lee, Donohue said he believed trade agreements help create jobs for large and small American businesses and it was important that the United States “seize additional opportunities beyond the Asia-Pacific.”
“The United States should consider bilateral free trade agreements with significant and emerging economies such as Brazil, Egypt and India” and assemble a “coalition of the willing” within the WTO to negotiate a deal to liberalize trade in services, he said.
Donohue also urged agreements with the European Union, the United States’ largest trading partner, to reduce remaining tariffs and to make regulations more compatible.
The two huge economies should also make deals to boost trade in services, encourage more cross-border investment and allow greater participation in their government procurement markets, he said.