By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON, March 9 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama
is fully committed to pushing for Congress to ratify the
Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal despite anti-trade
sentiment gaining steam on the presidential election campaign
trail, National Security Adviser Susan Rice said on Wednesday.
Voter anxiety and anger over international trade and the
12-nation Pacific trade pact have helped propel the campaign of
Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner, as well as Senator
Bernie Sanders, who is running against Hillary Clinton for the
"The president remains fully committed to working to achieve
ratification on the U.S. side and encouraging all of our TPP
partners to move through their domestic processes to do the
same," Rice told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.
For Obama, the TPP is a legacy issue, and standing firm on
the pact reassures other nations with high expectations for the
deal. At the same time, it highlights a division with Clinton, a
close political ally, who has been grappling with Democratic
anxiety about trade on the campaign trail.
Obama's commitment to the trade deal means that it will
likely remain a hot campaign issue and exposes Clinton to
trade-bashing rhetoric ahead of the Nov. 8 vote to elect Obama's
Sanders has accused Clinton of backing "disastrous" trade
policies that moved manufacturing jobs overseas, and questioned
the sincerity of her opposition to the TPP since she became a
Clinton had supported the trade pact when she was secretary
of state during Obama's first term, but later said she was
worried the deal would not do enough to crack down on currency
manipulation or protect consumers from excessively high drug
Sanders' unexpected victory in the Democratic primary in
Michigan on Tuesday suggests that his criticism is resonating
with some voters, and could spell trouble ahead for Clinton in
states such as Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Trump's anti-free trade rhetoric and promise to slap taxes
on cars and parts shipped in from Mexico have also found support
among Republican voters, helping him score a big victory in the
party' primary in Michigan on Tuesday.
"There have been times - and this is one of them - where
anti-trade sentiment has attained some salience in our domestic
politics as well as in other countries," Rice said.
"There's been an evolution over the decades in the nature of
trade agreements and in the caliber of trade agreements. And I'm
not sure that that has fully been absorbed in the public mindset
or the political discourse," she said.
Obama has repeatedly said that the TPP will expand markets
for U.S. exporters and has high standards on labor and the
environment that were not part of the North American Free Trade
Agreement with Canada and Mexico.
Rice said policy makers face the challenge of being able to
articulate the benefits of TPP and "to not allow the sort of
traditional 'old saws' of the critical narrative about trade to
go unchallenged, when to a considerable extent they're based on
agreements of the past."
Rice made her comments ahead of a summit between Obama and
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, a nation also wrestling
with the merits of the TPP. The economy of Canada, the largest
market for U.S. exports, is heavily reliant on open trade with
the United States.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton, editing by Tiffany Wu)