By Ayesha Rascoe and Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama made a plug on Monday for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal to a group of 2,400 investors looking at locating business in the United States, saying the deal would help boost the global economy.
Trade has become a hot-button issue in the Nov. 8 presidential election campaign, with presumptive candidates from both parties voicing objections to the 12-nation TPP deal that Obama wants the U.S. Congress to sign off on before his time in office ends on Jan. 20.
Both the Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns have tapped into populist skepticism about the benefit of trade deals on jobs and wages, particularly in the manufacturing sector.
Obama tried to dispel the economic gloom-and-doom coming from the campaign trail, extolling the recovery of the United States from recession.
“I don’t mind being America’s pitch man,” Obama said in a speech at the SelectUSA Summit. “In seven months or so, I’ll be on the job market, and I’m glad I’m going to be here. I’m going to get on LinkedIn and see what comes up,” he quipped.
Obama argued that while there are legitimate concerns about boosting wages and improving working conditions, ultimately global trade can help connect people from around the world and reduce poverty.
“This is not just about jobs and trade, it’s not just about hard cold cash,” he said. “It’s also about building relationships across borders. When your companies come together you help bring countries and cultures together.”
American business lobby groups have been pushing the White House and congressional leaders to finish their work to ratify the TPP before the next administration takes office.
Obama’s top economic adviser sidestepped a question on a conference call about the timeline.
“We’re continuing to work with congressional leaders to find the right opportunity, the right window of opportunity, to get TPP passed this year,” Jeff Zients, the director of the National Economic Council, told reporters.
On Monday, Obama announced a $70 million matching grant to a Los Angeles “manufacturing hub,” a group of businesses and researchers piloting sensors and other technology to help factories cut costs and energy use.
It is the ninth of 15 planned hubs that the White House hopes will boost manufacturing across the country.
On Friday, Obama will continue his pitch for business, speaking about technology and the economy on a panel with Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg at another summit at Stanford University aimed at boosting entrepreneurs in developing countries.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Andrew Hay)