BEAVERTON, Ore. – President Barack Obama argued forcefully Friday for a pending international trade agreement, saying the U.S. must write the rules for global commerce now, while it’s in a position of economic strength, or lose out.
“If we don’t write the rules for trade around the world, guess what? China will,” Obama said, making his case at the Oregon headquarters of the athletic apparel and footwear company Nike. “And they’ll write those rules in a way that gives Chinese workers and Chinese businesses the upper hand.”
Nike was a curious choice for the president’s speech, given criticism of its labour practices over the years.
But the company pledged Friday to create up to 10,000 jobs in the U.S. over the next decade with its manufacturing partners if Congress gives Obama “fast-track” trade negotiating authority that ultimately leads to the 12-country Trans-Pacific trade deal.
Nike said the trade deal would allow it to take advantage of lower tariffs on shoes and speed up investments in footwear manufacturing in the U.S.
Negotiations over the deal have put Obama in the awkward position of publicly battling with Democratic allies who normally would support him, including many lawmakers, labour unions and environmentalists.
Opponents fear the deal would lead to jobs being shifted overseas.
Obama argued that the current system doesn’t benefit American workers, particularly those in the small businesses that he said create two out of every three jobs in the U.S. He said those businesses need easier access to the fast-growing Asian markets.
Obama acknowledged getting a “whupping” from his own party on the issue, but he said the pending deal includes enforceable provisions on the environment, child labour and other issues. Participating countries have to raise labour standards and pass other laws to protect workers, he said.
“Some of my dearest friends are wrong. They’re just wrong,” Obama said.