Obama To Congress During State Of Union: Approve Trade Deal

President Obama delivered his final State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol tonight.  As the President enters his lame duck year, rather than offer a series of policy proposals he focused on a longer term vision of America.

The speech was a bit of a vintage Obama moment, where the President encouraged Americans and Congress to embrace change and to move past partisan bickering to get things accomplished.

“Our unique strengths as a nation – our optimism and work ethic, our spirit of discovery and innovation, our diversity and commitment to the rule of law – these things give us everything we need to ensure prosperity and security for generations to come,” Obama said in the opening of his speech.

In addition to discussing domestic economic policy and supporting issues from climate change policy to education improvements, the President focused on expanding the U.S. agenda and presence abroad. As a part of this he highlighted the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would lift footwear tariffs in member countries and open more markets in the Asia Pacific for U.S. exports.

“[TPP] cuts 18,000 taxes on products Made in America, which will then supports more good jobs in America.  With TPP, China doesn’t set the rules in that region, we do.  You want to show our strength in this new century?  Approve this agreement.  Give us the tools to enforce it. It’s the right thing to do,” said Obama.

The deal, which heads for three days of hearings at the U.S. International Trade Commission tomorrow, is under intense scrutiny by pharmaceutical, auto and tobacco industries.

Footwear imports stand to gain especially as the tariffs in Vietnam are gradually reduced in the deal.  U.S. made footwear will also be more open to export to Japan, as those taxes are also eliminated by the TPP.

Experts agree it will be a challenge to pass TPP in Congress, but it is also a key to Obama’s economic legacy, so supporters and opponents are gearing up for a big fight.

“This was billed as not your typical ticker-tape list of policy proposals…so it was great to see that the TPP was one of the items included as a specific policy goal for the President,” said Matt Priest, president of the Footwear Retailers and Distributors of America. “I think this will certainly help provide momentum for the deal.”

American Apparel and Footwear Association Executive VP Steve Lamar agreed saying the speech was a big moment for the trade deal’s future.

“The president in his remarks mentioned TPP and the significance of this agreement and how it can open markets.  TPP covers 40 percent of the world’s economy. Once it enters into force, TPP will result in the immediate elimination of about $450 million duties currently being assessed on U.S. footwear imports from Vietnam,” said Lamar. “We know there are still issues to be resolved, and the Administration and Congress will need to work together on those issues to set the stage for Congressional consideration.”

Obama spent a good portion of the State of the Union talking about the strength of the economy and the growth of the job market as well. But he also said that because the economy has changed so dramatically since the 2008 recession, it’s also become a tough market where it’s harder for American workers to get raises and feel secure in their jobs.

The President he did recommend reforms like free two-year community college and securing long term benefits like social security, as well as encouraging more job training tools built into unemployment benefits. He also highlighted an increase in the minimum wage.

Obama closed the speech encouraging Congress and voters to be politically involved, but also to end the partisanship that has characterized the political climate the past several years.

“So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, our collective future depends on your willingness to uphold your obligations as a citizen.  To vote.  To speak out.  To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us.  To stay active in our public life so it reflects the goodness and decency and optimism that I see in the American people every single day,” he said.

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