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Five Points From President Obama's Portland Speech


President Barack Obama delivered a speech about the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement in May at Nike's world headquarters near Beaverton.

“Hello Oregon,” President Obama said as he took the stage at the Nike headquarters outside of Beaverton.

During his roughly 45-minute speech on the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, the president appeared loose and in his element at the home of the sporting apparel manufacturer, even joking about the topic of “trade.”

“Which initially may have had some people going, ‘Is (Marcus) Mariota going somewhere?’” the president joked, referencing trade rumors surrounding the former University of Oregon quarterback’s foray into the NFL.

Obama then went into his support of the deal, making several arguments for the TPP:

1. It’s A Good Deal For Small Business Workers

President Obama began his speech thanking small businesses for their role in the U.S. economy. While short on details of how the trade deal would help the businesses (as TPP negotiations are still being held behind closed doors), the president spoke repeatedly about the importance of small businesses in the Pacific Northwest and Oregon.

The president pointed to Portland’s Egg Press, saying the greeting card company would benefit from the TPP by expanding their operations in Australia.

Obama also put a plug in for the Oregon beef industry.

President Barack Obama takes a selfie with community members after discussing the Trans-Pacific partnership agreement at Nike's world headquarters on May 8, 2015.

President Barack Obama takes a selfie with community members after discussing the Trans-Pacific partnership agreement at Nike's world headquarters on May 8, 2015.

 Alan Sylvestre/OPB

“Beef’s really expensive in Japan,” he said. “Let’s make sure they try some Oregon steaks.”

He implied that Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden was absent from the event because he was working on gathering support for the TPP.

“In fact, that’s why Ron Wyden is not here, because he’s in Washington, D.C. quarterbacking our effort,” the president said.  

2. Obama Asked For Trust During Closed Door Talks

With ongoing negotiations classified, President Obama couldn’t talk about the specific policies of the TPP. Instead, he made a strong personal case that he had the people of the U.S. – and not big businesses – in mind while crafting this deal.

Along with his push for the Affordable Care Act, Obama cited months of strong job numbers, the spirit of the American people, and “some pretty good policies from my administration” as the reason the U.S. should trust his administration.

Calling the TPP “the most progressive trade agreement in history,” Obama appealed to the liberal wing of his party, led by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

“There have been a bunch of critics,” the president said. “Typically, they’re my friends coming from my party. On this one, they’re like, whooping on me.”

Sen. Warren and other have expressed concern with the deal, comparing it often to the unpopular North American Free Trade Agreement.

“On this issue, on trade, I think some of my dearest friends are wrong,” Obama said.  

They’re also upset with the secret nature of the negotiations.

The president noted that when the negotiations are finalized, the proposed TPP will have to be posted online at least 60 days before Congress can act.

3. This Isn’t NAFTA

“I was just getting out of law school when NAFTA got passed,” the president quipped, noting that the trade agreement was approved more than 20 years ago.

Obama repeatedly voiced his belief that NAFTA was flawed trade policy.

“Past trade agreements didn’t always reflect our values or do enough to protect American workers,” he said.

The president said the TPP would include protections to ensure that child labor, environmental protections and working conditions would be dramatically improved in the 12-country agreement.

President Barack Obama hugs Nike President and CEO Mark Parker before discussing the Trans-Pacific partnership agreement at Nike's world headquarters on May 8, 2015.

President Barack Obama hugs Nike President and CEO Mark Parker before discussing the Trans-Pacific partnership agreement at Nike's world headquarters on May 8, 2015.

Alan Sylvestre/OPB

He also worked to quell criticism from labor unions at home. The AFL-CIO and others have loudly opposed the TPP, with Tom Chamberlin, head of the Oregon AFL-CIO, going so far as to say he doesn’t “trust the president or Sen. Wyden on this issue.” 

Obama responded by arguing the labor movement would gain a stronger foothold in countries such as Vietnam.

“Under this agreement, Vietnam would have to raise its labor standards,” the president said. “It moves us in the right direction.”

He also said businesses looking for countries with cheap labor and bad environmental standards “already left” the U.S.

4. This Agreement Is About Maintaining American Trade Power

Directly addressing the current isolationist streak emerging in American politics, Obama made an argument that rejecting the TPP is a rejection of America’s economic dominance.

“Some folks think we should just withdrawal.… I disagree,” Obama said. “We have to make sure America writes the rules of the global economy, and we should do it today. Because if we don’t write the rules for trade around the world…guess what? China will.”

China is not yet included in the TPP, but is widely expected to join at some point in the future.

5. The TPP Helps Middle Class People

Throughout the speech, President Obama wove in his belief that the middle class will benefit from the TPP.

“When the rules are fair, we win every time,” he said.

He described the TPP as setting a level trade field, and said that the pact would bring advanced manufacturing jobs to the U.S., along with protections for the environment and children.

“Just do it,” the president concluded, a shout-out to the long running Nike slogan.

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