In his interview with Matt Yglesias, the President made his case to the public on that one for the first time.
Where Americans have a legitimate reason to be concerned is that in part this rise has taken place on the backs of an international system in which China wasn't carrying its own weight or following the rules of the road and we were, and in some cases we got the short end of the stick. This is part of the debate that we're having right now in terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade deal that, you know, we've been negotiating. There are a lot of people who look at the last 20 years and say, "Why would we want another trade deal that hasn't been good for American workers? It allowed outsourcing of American companies locating jobs in low-wage China and then selling it back to Walmart. And, yes, we got cheaper sneakers, but we also lost all our jobs."In response to critics of TPP - like those in the labor movement - he says this:
And my argument is two-fold. Number one: precisely because that horse is out of the barn, the issue we're trying to deal with right now is, can we make for a higher bar on labor, on environmental standards, et cetera, in that region and write a set of rules where it's fairer, because right now it's not fair, and if you want to improve it, that means we need a new trading regime. We can't just rely on the old one because the old one isn't working for us.
But the second reason it's important is because the countries we're negotiating with are the same countries that China is trying to negotiate with. And if we don't write the rules out there, China's going to write the rules. And the geopolitical implications of China writing the rules for trade or maritime law or any kind of commercial activity almost inevitably means that we will be cut out or we will be deeply disadvantaged. Our businesses will be disadvantaged, our workers will be disadvantaged. So when I hear, when I talk to labor organizations, I say, right now, we've been hugely disadvantaged. Why would we want to maintain the status quo? If we can organize a new trade deal in which a country like Vietnam for the first time recognizes labor rights and those are enforceable, that's a big deal. It doesn't mean that we're still not going to see wage differentials between us and them, but they're already selling here for the most part. And what we have the opportunity to do is to set long-term trends that keep us in the game in a place that we've got to be.
...the story, the narrative, the experience that people have seen over the last 20 years, that's a real experience, that's not something we deny. That's why during the State of the Union address, I was very explicit. I said, look, not every trade deal has lived up to the hype. And there are real gaps in the current trading regime that mean there are a whole lot of Toyotas sold here and almost no Fords or Chryslers sold in Japan. But what I say to them [is] if, in fact, the current situation disadvantages us, why would we want to stick with the current situation?That's helpful information to have for when the upcoming battle over TPP breaks out. We're likely to hear a lot of accusations that in pushing for this agreement, President Obama has sold out to corporate America. But the real question is whether or not this trade agreement is an improvement on the status quo.
Now, sometimes their response will be, well, what you're doing isn't enough; what we need to do is to have union recognition in Vietnam or we need Japan to completely open its markets and not have any barriers whatsoever, and we need that immediately. And I say, well, I can't get that for you. But what I can do is make the current situation better for American workers and American businesses that are trying to export there. I can open up more markets than what we have open right now, so that American farmers can sell their goods there. And, you know, better is better. It's not perfect.