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Obama's Asia trade deal still alive, top economic adviser says

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is opposed by both leading candidates, is a key element of President Obama’s effort to increase US engagement with the Pacific region and help offset China’s rising influence.

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Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Jason Furman speaks at the St. Regis Hotel on Thursday in Washington, DC.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor

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President Obama’s top economic adviser says that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal is not dead, despite opposition from the leading presidential candidates from both major parties.

When asked whether the trade agreement was doomed by criticism from both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, replied, “I do not believe that at all.” He spoke April 22 at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters.

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The trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations still requires congressional approval. The pact is a key element of Mr. Obama’s effort to increase US engagement with the Pacific region and help offset China’s rising influence as a major trading partner with nations in the area.

Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, called TPP the “gold standard” of trade deals when she was serving as secretary of State. But as a candidate, she has opposed the agreement saying, “I don’t believe it’s going to meet the high bar I have set” in terms of creating jobs and boosting wages in the US while advancing the nation’s security.

Mr. Trump, the leading GOP candidate, calls TPP “a horrible deal,” arguing, “It’s a deal that was designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone.”

Not so, Mr. Furman says, contending that every year the adoption of TPP is delayed costs the US nearly $100 billion in “foregone benefits that we would get from the agreement.” He added that, “The support for it is growing … every week new groups come out for it.”   

The Obama administration is likely to try to get the measure through Congress after the November elections in a lame duck session. The pact “continues to be something that we know a majority of the members of Congress are in principle open to doing,” Furman said.

When questioned about the US economic outlook, Furman was upbeat. “Our growth continues to be considered by people around the world as one of the bright spots in the global economy,” he said. 

One sign of the economy’s health, Furman said, is that the number of people who filed for unemployment claims last week was at its lowest level since November 1973.   

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In Furman’s view, the biggest concern for the US economy “is the impact of the rest of the world.” US exports have slowed as a result of economic weakness elsewhere. “Slower growth in the rest of the world is taking about three quarters of a point off our growth rate right now. So this isn’t enough to have a massive change on the US economy but it is a persistent drag on the economy,” he said.