TPP ratification a top priority in 2016: Obama

President Obama emphasised the benefits that the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal will have for Americans at a press conference on Friday.
President Obama emphasised the benefits that the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal will have for Americans at a press conference on Friday. PHOTO: REUTERS

US President Barack Obama will make ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade pact a top legislative priority next year, as he continues to push back against the notion that he will be a lame duck in his final year in office.

Speaking at a traditional year-end press conference, the President acknowledged that getting things done in an election year will always be challenging, but pledged to seize whatever opportunity he gets.

"I plan on doing everything I can with every minute of every day that I have left as president to deliver on behalf of the American people," he said at the White House on Friday. "Since taking this office, I've never been more optimistic about a year ahead than I am right now. And in 2016, I'm going to leave it all on the field," he said, using a sporting term meaning to give one's all.

One opportunity he sees is the 12-nation landmark free trade pact that covers some 40 per cent of global gross domestic product. It was signed in October and now needs to be ratified by the legislatures of the 12 countries. The deal is opposed by a majority of those in the President's party, including all three Democratic presidential candidates.

Mr Obama again emphasised the benefits the deal will have for Americans even as he acknowledged the challenges that lay ahead. "There are both proponents and opponents of this in both Democratic and Republican parties, and so it's going to be an interesting situation where we're going to have to stitch together the same kind of bipartisan effort in order for us to get it done," he said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan of the pro-business Republican party had last week also sounded an optimistic note on the deal, saying he wants to take a vote on it soon. He did not, however, specify a target.

On Friday, Mr Obama also took the opportunity to take stock of the past year. He portrayed 2015 as a year when his administration made significant progress.

Domestically, he cited the improving economic figures and said his administration's work was starting to bear fruit. "As I look back on this year, one thing I see is that so much of our steady, persistent work over the years is paying off for the American people in big, tangible ways," he said. "Over the course of this year, a lot of the decisions that we made early on have paid off."

As for foreign policy, Mr Obama held up the Iran nuclear deal, normalisation of diplomatic ties with Cuba and progress on climate change as clear victories.

Despite the clear festive mood of the press conference - Mr Obama rushed off at the end to catch a screening of the latest Star Wars film - a large chunk of the event centred on the serious issue of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Republican presidential candidates have attacked the President for what they say has been a weak response to the threat of the militant group and recent polls have shown that a growing number of Americans disapprove of his handling of the terrorism issue.

Mr Obama last Friday hit back at criticism, stressing once again that the US-led coalition against ISIS was making progress.

He said: "We're going to defeat ISIS, and we're going to do so by systematically squeezing them, cutting off their supply lines, cutting off their financing, taking out their leadership, taking out their forces, taking out their infrastructure."

But he also warned that the ISIS problem was not going to be solved quickly. Referring to the group by an alternative name, he said: "In any battle, in any fight, even as you make progress, there are still dangers involved. And ISIL's capacity both to infiltrate Western countries with people who've travelled to Syria or travelled to Iraq, and the savviness of its social media, its ability to recruit disaffected individuals who may be French or British or even US citizens, will continue to make it dangerous for quite some time. But we will systematically go after it."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 20, 2015, with the headline TPP ratification a top priority in 2016: Obama. Subscribe