President Obama made his pitch for free trade dressing it up in the rhetoric of "middle class economics" on Friday, calling on his liberal base to support a Pacific trade deal that would help US workers.
Speaking at the world headquarters of Nike yesterday, Obama offered arguments similar to the ones he offered in his efforts to pass universal health care, adoption of clean energy and raising the minimum wage. "Passing trade agreements is part of that agenda - if those trade agreements are the right kinds of trade agreements," he said.
"Like other issues we've waged slow, steady fights on over the last seven years, this is also a question of the past versus the present," he said.
However, Obama made his case for free trade at a company that is seen by many liberals - notably Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, a presidential candidate, as a symbol of failed trade policies.
Nike, the world's largest athletic shoe manufacturer, imported shoes produced in contract factories in low-wage countries like Vietnam, where the minimum wage was 56 cents an hour.
Obama said Vietnam, where 330,000 workers made Nike shoes, would need to raise the minimum wage, improve working conditions and even establish the right of workers to join a union.
"It doesn't mean that suddenly working conditions in Vietnam will be like they are here at Nike, or here in Portland right away, but it moves us in the right direction," he told a supportive audience of 1,200 - mostly Nike employees. "If you're a country that wants into this agreement, you have to meet higher standards. If you don't you're out."
Meanwhile, according to commentators, at a time when economic inequality around the globe continued to widen, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would only make things worse. They say, unlike what president Obama claims, the agreement would only encourage a race to the bottom, in which a small percentage of people got ridiculously rich while most workers around the globe continued to be miserably poor.
That should not be allowed to happen.
According to commentators, the Nike factory was an apt place for Obama to beat the free-trade drum, as Nike, like the TPP, was associated with offshoring US jobs, widening the income inequality gap, and increasing the number of people making slave wages overseas.
Since NAFTA was passed in 1993, 5 million US manufacturing jobs had gone, 57,000 plus factories, and wages continued to remain stagnant. The deal now would be no different, they claim.