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Why Is the Trans-Pacific Partnership So Controversial?


Why is the TPP so controversial?  

Answer by Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States:

This is an important question. And the answer reflects a larger paradox we’re facing today – including some misconceptions about the effects of globalization, technology, past trade agreements, as well as some misunderstandings about the Trans-Pacific Partnership itself.

Let’s start by taking a step back. As I’ve said before, for all the gloom and doom you hear every day, the truth is that if you could choose any time and place to be alive, you would pick right here, right now, in America. We are living through the most peaceful and most prosperous era in human history. And trade has been an important part of that progress – technology and innovation, driven by global demand and supply chains that have emerged in recent decades, have delivered tremendous benefits across America. Expanded trade has helped us afford devices that are more powerful than supercomputers that filled entire rooms a generation ago – but today fit in our pockets. And expanded trade since World War II has put more than $10,000 per year in additional income in American families’ pockets.

But for many, it might not feel that way. Even before the financial crisis hit in 2007, we’d experienced decades of sluggish income growth for the middle class. While automation, technology, and the global marketplace allowed many entrepreneurs and business owners to earn more by selling high-tech products to a broader pool of consumers, those same forces also undercut other Americans. Wages stagnated. Companies produced more goods with fewer workers. And communities saw factories close down and jobs move overseas. So it’s not hard to see why many Americans are anxious about their economic futures.

Unfortunately, in the current political season, some folks are exploiting that anxiety for political gain. Folks are promising to fix our problems by walling ourselves off from the outside world – withdrawing from international institutions, shutting down immigration, and yes, blocking a trade agreement.

But if the past two decades have taught us anything, it’s that the biggest challenges we face can’t be solved in isolation. We live in an age of global supply chains, cargo ships that crisscross oceans, and online commerce that can render borders obsolete. The answer isn’t to stop trading with other countries – in this global economy that’s not even possible. The answer is to do trade the right way, by negotiating with other countries so that they raise their labor and environmental standards; to make sure they don’t impose unfair tariffs on American goods or steal our intellectual property. That’s how we make sure international rules are consistent with our values, including human rights. That’s how we get better wages. That’s how we help our workers compete on a level playing field.

And that’s exactly what TPP does. It puts in place the highest standards in history. It supports American businesses – large and small, manufacturing and service, brick-and-mortar and online – by simplifying customs regulations and eliminating more than 18,000 taxes that other countries place on our goods. It stands up for American workers, by stopping other countries from providing unfair subsidies to their government-owned businesses. It reflects our values – from requiring a minimum wage and prohibiting child labor to combating illegal fishing and wildlife trafficking, this trade agreement ensures that we’re the ones writing the rules of trade in the 21st century. And all these standards are enforceable – if a country violates these rules, we can hit them with tough sanctions.

Perhaps most importantly, this agreement comes at a critical time. Trade and trade agreements in Asia are going to happen whether TPP passes or not. In fact, China is currently working on its own trade agreement with the region, one that almost certainly won’t hold countries up to the same high standards as we fought for in the TPP.

So the question is: Do we want that trade to be driven by American rules and American values? Or do we want the rules of the road written without us? Because failing to pass TPP would mean that U.S. exporters get squeezed out of Asia and some of the millions of American workers whose jobs are supported by exports to this region could find their jobs at risk.

So this is about our prospects here at home, and a test of our leadership around the globe. It’s not a Republican agreement or a Democratic agreement, it’s a bipartisan agreement that puts America first. In fact, I think Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican who by no means agrees with me on everything, makes the case well.

Our economy is changing rapidly, and that’s not going to change. So we have a choice: We can choose to turn inward and wall ourselves off from the outside world. Or, we can make this change work for us. We can lead the world with our values and harness the potential of the 21st century for the good of our workers, our businesses, and our country. That’s what the TPP does. And you can take a look for yourself – everything that’s in the agreement is right here.

This question originally appeared on Quora – the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions:

  • Trans-Pacific Partnership: What is the TPP?
  • Politics of the United States of America: What are the major differences between NAFTA and TPP?
  • The United States of America: What good things does the TPP hold for underemployed American citizens?

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