Danielle McLaughlin: TPP puts daylight between top Democrats.

US President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton have shown a united front on the campaign ...
LUCY NICHOLSON/REUTERS

US President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton have shown a united front on the campaign trail but the pair have their differences over the TPP.

OPINION: Is the TPP a terrible trade deal or essential economic safeguard? 

Curious and clanging disunity rang out this week between President Obama and his would-be democratic successor, Hillary Clinton. In a press conference with Singapore's Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the close of a state visit, Obama was asked about the status of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). "Right now," he said, "I'm President, and I'm for it".

Obama was chiding not only Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has vociferously opposed the TPP (and all other trade deals to boot). He was also rebuking Clinton. After a long and chequered history with the TPP, she has finally come out against it. It is one of the few areas of daylight between her and Obama.

The behemoth trade deal signed by 12 nations in New Zealand in February was five years in the making and would cover 40 per cent of the world's economy. Should it come to "pass", of course. What that will take is at least six countries to formally ratify the treaty. Because they are the largest economic powerhouses of the twelve, the United States and Japan would have to be two of the six.

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Obama's experience with TPP is not unlike John Key's. Both heads of state were strongly in favour of the agreement during its negotiation. And their respective constituencies seemed on board. But after signing, Obama and Key are almost alone. Awash in grass roots, often nationalistic, opposition.

Here in the US, opposition to the TPP is based principally on two things: concerns about sovereignty, and protection for American workers and businesses. As to sovereignty, one big question is why would we allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws without ever setting foot in a US court? Since George Washington warned Americans in 1796 to "steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world", the U.S. has had an uneasy relationship with the concept of international agreements. As to protections, TPP opponents, despite its many health and safety protections for workers, argue that (like NAFTA did before it) it will put downward pressure on US wages, leading manufacturing to go to the cheapest corners of the trade deal. A race to the bottom, if you will.

Trump's ever-colourful tirades against the TPP (which he calls "Hillary's Obamatrade") is directly connected to his isolationist, "America First" world view. And isolationist is the key here. One of the driving ideas behind the TPP is to constrain the second-largest economy in the world (behind the U.S.), China. And make no mistake. If the TPP falls apart, a space emerges for greater Chinese economic dominance in the Pacific region. And with it, more political, and perhaps military, clout.

President Obama is seeking to build an American-led long-term alliance through the TPP to ensure multi-faceted stability in the Pacific. Time will tell what price member states, and their citizens, are willing to pay for it.

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 - Sunday Star Times

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