Kerry defends trade deals against campaign attacks

LOS ANGELES • US Secretary of State John Kerry defended a 12-nation Pacific trade agreement on Tuesday against what he suggested was fear-mongering by the leading US presidential candidates.

Without mentioning Republican presidential front runner Donald Trump by name, Mr Kerry argued that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal that the Obama administration negotiated would be good for the US economy, even as he acknowledged US workers' fears about free trade agreements.

"Many Americans still feel a sense of anxiety about TPP and TTIP. In fact, they've been revved up to have some anxiety about anything related to trade," Mr Kerry said in a speech in Los Angeles, also referring to a trade deal with Europe called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Some of workers' mistrust of trade agreements "comes from politicians who play to fears", he said.

Voter anxiety and anger over international trade and the trade pact have helped propel Mr Trump, whose main opponent for the Republican nomination, Senator Ted Cruz, is against it too.

Democratic presidential front runner Hillary Clinton worked on the TPP as President Barack Obama's first secretary of state, but is now against it, saying it does not adequately protect US workers. Senator Bernie Sanders, her main Democratic rival, also opposes it.

Given the criticism of TPP in the presidential campaign, prospects for it receiving a vote before the Nov 8 election are diminishing, and some lawmakers have said it would be better to consider it during the lame duck session after the vote.

Still, Obama administration officials have been emphasising the deal's geopolitical benefits of strengthening ties with Asian allies in the face of an increasingly aggressive China.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2016, with the headline 'Kerry defends trade deals against campaign attacks'. Print Edition | Subscribe