President Barack Obama spoke about the pain and suffering of American workers caused by past trade agreements Tuesday at a joint press conference held in the East Room of the White House with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is in the United States to voice support for the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“It is absolutely true, the evidence shows that some past trade deals have not delivered on all the benefits that were promised and had very localized costs,” Obama said. The Trans-Pacific Partnership must be ratified by the Senate as a treaty.
“There were communities that were hurt because plants moved out. People lost jobs. Jobs were created because of those trade deals, but jobs were also lost,” he said. “People who experienced those losses, those communities didn’t get as much help as they needed.”
The president’s treatment of Lee speaks to his respect for the prime minister and the influence of the city-state that far out weighs countries with larger economies, populations, and land mass.
In addition to the shared press conference in the East Room, not the West Wing’s press briefing room, the president hosted a ceremonial greeting on the White House lawn with military honors and hosts the prime minister at a formal state dinner Tuesday night.
Lee offered reporters a full and unrepentant defense of free trade and the importance of TPP to American relationships around the Pacific Rim. Singapore and the United States joined a free trade agreement in 2004.
But, Obama could not ignore the attacks Trump has made against TPP and other trade deals.
“Globalization means that economies around the world are more integrated than ever, and jobs and capital move across borders,” the president said.
“These forces of globalization and technology have not always benefited everybody evenly,” he said.
“There are fears and anxieties that people may be left behind,” the president said. “These anxieties are legitimate. They can’t be ignored. They have to be taken seriously.”
Obama had already answered a question about Republican nominee for president Donald J. Trump regarding the attacks waged against Trump by the parents of a Muslin Army officer killed in Iraq. But, it was clear that Trump was the other man in the room–even as he addressed thousands of supporters an hour away in Virginia.
Getting back to business, Obama said the TPP was going to be different.
“We have to do everything we can to make sure that everybody shares in prosperity, that we have strong rules to protect workers, to promote high wages, to make sure that our citizens are getting the education and the training that they need,” he said. “But the answer cannot be to back away from trade and the global economy. It is here to stay. It’s not possible to cut ourselves off given how integrated our economies are. And trying to pull up a drawbridge on trade would only hurt us and hurt our workers. So the answer is to make sure that globalization and trade is working for us, not against us.”