US President Barack Obama remains committed to seeing through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement, even as he acknowledged that the politics surrounding the pact are difficult in an election year.
In an e-mail interview with The Straits Times ahead of an official visit by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, President Obama stressed that the TPP was a "good deal" and said he would continue making a case for it.
"I remain committed to TPP because it's a good deal - for America, for the region and for the world. TPP advances America's economic and our strategic interests," he said, citing various advantages such as the removal of 18,000 tariffs on US products.
The President's reaffirmation of support for the pact comes just days after the end of a Democratic National Convention that featured small but vocal protests against the 12-country trade deal. Protesters chanting "No TPP" disrupted at least two speeches during the convention and "No TPP" signs were also visible inside the arena throughout Mr Obama's own address.
Both presidential nominees, Mrs Hillary Clinton and Mr Donald Trump, have said that they oppose the deal. Mr Obama acknowledged legitimate concerns about winners and losers caused by globalisation, but said it cannot mean that the US turns its back on trade.
"We have to take those concerns seriously and address them. But the answer isn't to turn inward and embrace protectionism. We can't just walk away from trade," he said.
"The answer is to make sure that trade is working for our people by supporting good jobs, reducing inequality and creating more opportunity. That's what TPP does. I'll continue making the case for TPP, and I'm optimistic that the United States Congress will ultimately support this landmark agreement."
The US, Japan, Singapore and nine other countries party to the TPP reached an agreement on what would become the world's largest free trade pact in October last year. The agreement now awaits ratification by the respective national legislatures, with the chances of passage through the US Congress considered among the most tenuous.
The TPP is expected to be on the agenda when PM Lee and President Obama meet in Washington, DC tomorrow. Mr Obama is hosting Mr Lee to a state dinner, making Singapore the only South-east Asian country to receive such an honour in the President's two terms in office.
In the interview, which covered regional issues like the South China Sea, Mr Obama told The Straits Times that the visit reflects the important role that Singapore plays in his administration's Asia rebalance, adding that Singapore is one of the US' "strongest and most reliable partners in South-east Asia".
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