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As he stood against the backdrop of a large aircraft hangar at Boeing’s 737 plant in Renton, Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday defended a sweeping, multinational trade deal being negotiated by the Obama administration.
Supporting the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership, an ambitious trade accord between the United States and 11 South American and Pacific Rim nations and a key component of President Barack Obama's trade agenda and economic legacy, will help secure America’s future, Kerry said.
“We can't farm out to other nations the core interests of the United States of America,” Kerry told the gathering of workers and other officials at the suburban Seattle plant. “We have to be our own prime contractors. We can't entrust to anyone else the goal of preserving the American dream.”
Kerry’s comments come during a week in which the Senate considers giving the president so-called “fast track” authority to negotiate the pact without the threat of congressional filibusters or added amendments. The White House has had trouble garnering support from party liberals for the trade deal and the high-profile rift has highlighted inter-party tensions over the accord’s impact on American workers.
It’s also put Republicans in the unusual position of siding with the president. While the vast majority of congressional Republicans support the trade pact, many Democrats oppose it saying it will cost American jobs and result in lowered middle class wages.
On Tuesday, Kerry said the arguments of some Democrats who have opposed the trade pact as harmful to American workers “have been passionate…sincere but I believe they are flawed.”
This “is not your grandparents' trade agreement; it's not your mom and dad's trade agreement; it's not even your older brother or sister's trade agreement,” Kerry said. “This is a new entity, and ultimately, this is a 21st century agreement where the key understandings and high standards are baked right into the four corners of the text — not in a side agreement, not in a letter, but in the text of the agreement itself.”
Those critics include Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a former Obama administration official turned legislator, who has been one of the most vocal critics of the president's handling of the trade accord — handling she says has lacked transparency. Obama and Warren's disagreements over the trade matter spilled out in the press recently with some Democrats calling the president's comments "disrespectful."
Kerry hit back at the criticism over secrecy on Tuesday saying the process of drafting the trade accord “is not secrecy at work, that is democracy at work and that is the way that we have done business for a very long time.”
For weeks, the president, senior White House staff and cabinet secretaries have been privately pitching members of Congress. There's also a clear public relations strategy with the president having made a speech at Nike’s headquarters in Portland touting the trade accord’s benefits.
He’s also talked the deal up in interviews with David Letterman, MSNBC's Chris Matthew and NPR's Steve Inskeep. The trade pact, which would be the largest since President Bill Clinton completed NAFTA in 1994, is largely considered one of President Obama's top priorities during his last two years in office.
Seattle officials advised Kerry to avoid the city in advance of his trade speech because of ongoing protests over Arctic drilling that have drawn hundreds of activists, according to the Associated Press. The Port of Seattle is a major gateway for goods traveling to and from Asia, and Washington state relies heavily on international trade and state officials say one in three jobs in the state is directly tied to international commerce.
Kerry's choice of a Boeing Co. plant drew some criticism because the plane manufacturer has benefited from billions of dollars' worth of illegal U.S. subsidies and the World Trade Organization has issued several rulings in recent years determining Boeing cheated the competition through tax breaks, government-funded facilities and other forms of banned federal and state support, according to the Associated Press. The WTO also faulted Boeing's main rival, Europe's Airbus, for similar infractions in a case China's government has closely monitored, the Associated Press reported.
Kerry on Tuesday called Boeing, one of Washington state’s largest employers, an “extraordinary company”.
“Boeing is America's leading exporter, one of our top employers, and an incredible innovator and competitor, and you all ought to be as proud of that as we are proud of you,” Kerry told the gathering. “ I couldn't think of a more appropriate place to visit on my way back from Asia to talk about our nation's leadership role…in the growing global economy.”