Obama makes pitch to win support for Pacific trade pact

Obama makes pitch to win support for Pacific trade pact

© Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama kicked off a sales pitch on Tuesday for a 12-nation Pacific Rim trade agreement, urging farmers to push their lawmakers to approve what he said would boost their sales in a fast-growing region.

Although ultimate winners and losers from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are still unclear, some Republicans are worried about its impact on industries including dairy, tobacco and pharmaceuticals, highlighting the battle ahead to win votes.

Obama was upbeat about winning support in the Republican-controlled Congress for the pact, which was announced early Monday.

"Ultimately we’re going to get this done, and it will be an enormous achievement for us to be able to make sure that 40 percent of the world’s economy is operating under rules that don’t hurt us," Obama told agricultural and business leaders gathered at the U.S. Agriculture Department.

The White House said it was the first in a series of public appearances for Obama on the issue. He needs to garner enough support from Republicans to overcome skepticism from members of his own party.

Early reaction from lawmakers was not encouraging, although they stressed they were waiting on details.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saw "a number of troubling parts" in the deal, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch said the administration could lose "quite a few" Republican votes.

Hatch said it was a mistake that U.S. negotiators had not secured a minimum 12-year monopoly for the manufacturers of next-generation biological drugs and held out the option of trying to re-open the deal.

North Carolina Senator Richard Burr who, like McConnell, comes from a tobacco-growing state was upset by rules targeting tobacco companies' ability to take legal action over anti-smoking laws.

"I'd say they are going to come up woefully short (of votes) based on the (agricultural) community," he said.

Farmers and key business groups have yet to give their verdict on the deal.

But Obama spoke directly to farmers in a radio program carried on almost 400 stations in the U.S. Midwest, pledging the deal would be a "boon" for selling more beef in Japan and Vietnam. He asked for help selling the TPP to lawmakers.

"I think that if the agricultural community is strong and pushing on this issue, that will be an enormous, enormous base from which we can get this thing passed," Obama said in the interview with Brownfield Ag News.

"Make sure that you push Congress hard because this is a generational deal that you don't want to pass up," he said.

Lawmakers from manufacturing regions hit by past free trade deals also have concerns. Ohio Senator Rob Portman, a former U.S. trade representative, criticized a lack of "teeth" in preventing countries from devaluing their currencies to make their exports cheaper.

Obama said in an interview with radio show Marketplace that it was a good starting point that TPP countries agreed on a set of principles on how to measure currency manipulation.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton and David Lawder in Washington and Karl Plume in Chicago; editing by Cynthia Osterman)