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U.S. election year politics seen as obstacle to trade pacts

  |   Feb. 15, 2014 at 10:36 AM
WASHINGTON, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- Mid-term elections and the economic recovery are working against U.S. President Barack Obama's proposed trade deals in Asia and Europe, trade analysts say.

For the mid-term elections, Democrats need to shore up their base, which includes union members, who oppose trade deals that cede economic opportunities to foreign countries, and environmentalists, who see trade agreements as granting permission to foreign countries to produce goods in regions with lenient environmental laws, the New York Times reported Saturday.

With the economy in recovery, trade is expected to increase with or without new trade agreements, tempering the need for quick passage of the pan-Asian Trans Pacific Partnership -- a pact that has been politically difficult enough, given it includes 12 Asian nations.

"It would make U.S. trade policy dead in the water, probably for the rest of the Obama administration," I.M. Destler, trade expert at the University of Maryland, told the Times.

At a Democrats-only strategy meeting in Cambridge, Md., Vice President Joe Biden said he recognized why party members in the House were hesitant to grant Obama the authority to fast-track the trade agreements, which is seen as the only option left to the president for pushing the agreements forward.

"While the vice president said he understands where some members of the House and Senate are coming from, he made a clear case for the administration's trade priorities, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations," a senior White House official told the Times, speaking anonymously because Biden's meetings with lawmakers were behind closed doors.

"If the Democrats on the Hill seem to be reluctant to embrace the deal, and they do, the only question is whether the White House is willing to use the tools at their disposal to change some minds," said David Rothkopf, who was a trade official in the Clinton administration.

Biden focused on trade, but Obama's discussions with Democrats during the retreat did not. Instead, he focused on issues of immigration reform and raising the minimum wage.

On the other side of the aisle, the view on trade agreements is different.

"With our economy in such dire straits these days, opening new opportunities for American goods through trade should just be a no-brainer," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

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