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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry defended a 12-nation Pacific trade agreement on Tuesday against what he suggested was fear-mongering by the leading U.S. presidential candidates.
Without mentioning Donald Trump by name, Kerry argued that the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal that the Obama administration negotiated would be good for the U.S. economy even as he acknowledged U.S. workers' fears about free trade agreements.
"Many Americans still feel a sense of anxiety about TPP and T-TIP. In fact, they've been revved up to have some anxiety about anything related to trade," Kerry said in a speech in Los Angeles, also referring to a trade deal with Europe called the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
Some of workers' mistrust of trade agreements "comes from politicians who play to fears," he added. "It comes also from legitimate anger about the economic status of millions of our fellow citizens who have not gained from trade."
Voter anxiety and anger over international trade and the trade pact have helped propel Trump, the Republican front-runner, whose main opponent for the Republican nomination, Senator Ted Cruz, also opposes the deal.
Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton worked on TTP as President Barack Obama's first secretary of state, calling it the "gold standard" of such deals, but is now against it, saying it does not adequately protect U.S. workers. Senator Bernie Sanders, her main Democratic rival, also opposes it.
Given the criticism of TPP in the presidential campaign, prospects for it receiving a vote before the Nov. 8 election are diminishing, and some lawmakers have said it would be better to consider it during the "lame duck " session after the vote.
Still, Obama administration officials have been stepping up their campaign to promote TPP, especially emphasizing the deal's geopolitical benefits of strengthening ties with Asian allies in the face of an increasingly aggressive China. (Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by James Dalgleish)