Warning against a rush to judgment, President Barack Obama sought Saturday to ease concerns in Latin America that President-elect Donald Trump will wipe out trade deals and create other international problems. “Don’t just assume the worst,” he said. “Wait until the administration’s in place” before drawing conclusions. Obama, speaking on the margins of an Asia-Pacific summit in Peru, said tensions over trade are likely under the new Trump administration and trade pacts may be modified. But he predicted that once the administration sees how the deals are working, “they’ll determine that it’s actually good both for the United States and our trading partners.”
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Obama made his comments during a town hall-style forum with young people after meeting with leaders of countries that joined the US to negotiate a sweeping Pacific trade deal that is now in jeopardy. The president said his meetings in Peru were a good chance for leaders to review how to spur their economies. They had hoped to achieve some of those goals through the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but the agreement appears unlikely to be ratified due to opposition from Trump. Trump opposes multinational trade deals as written, saying they are harmful to US workers.
Obama pressed leaders of the other 11 countries in the Pacific agreement to “find ways to ensure that trade agreements contribute to our shared objective of reducing inequality,” according to a White House statement. The president also urged them to keep working to advance the imperiled deal.
Of the summit overall, Obama said “this is always a useful occasion for us to get together and examine how we can make sure that we’re creating more jobs, more opportunity and greater prosperity for all of our countries.”
Obama supports trade deals as a way to boost US exports and create American jobs. Trump’s protectionist stance was on the minds of other leaders attending the economic conference. Chinese President Xi Jinping made an impassioned call against protectionism Saturday as Chinese state media blasted Trump for trade-bashing that could drag the world into “deeper economic distress.” Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto defended his country’s trade relationship with the US, but took a cautious approach to Trump’s pledge to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“In the face of Trump’s positioning, we’re now in a stage of favoring dialogue as a way to build a new agenda in our bilateral relationship,” said Pena Nieto, whose country participates in NAFTA with the US and Canada. “Mexico, like the entire world, is about to initiate a new stage with the US and in commercial terms we want to give the right value to this strategic relationship between Mexico and the US.”
Since Obama opened the final foreign trip of his presidency in Greece on Tuesday, he has tried to reassure his counterparts that the US will uphold its partnerships and obligations despite the divisive rhetoric of a campaign that ended with the election of a real estate mogul and reality TV star with no political or government experience. Obama told the young leaders in Peru he didn’t anticipate “major changes in policy from the new administration” with regard to Latin America.
In a meeting Saturday between Obama and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who took office as Peru’s president this year, the two leaders discussed the need to press for open markets and talked about implementation of a 2009 deal to promote trade between the US and Peru, the White House said in a statement.
On Friday, before Obama arrived in Peru’s oceanfront capital, Kuczynski warned that the US presidential election is a sign of intensifying hostility toward free trade that threatens the global economy. He told delegates gathering for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum that global trade had stopped growing in the past two years, and would only worsen if nations wall off their economies.
“It is fundamental that world trade grow again and that protectionism be defeated,” said Kuczynski, who did not mention Trump by name. Obama has argued for some time that globalization is here to stay and governments must address fears about what the changing economics mean for them.
Obama was also meeting Saturday with Xi. Trump leveled harsh criticism at China during the election, threatening the Asian powerhouse with hefty import tariffs over alleged trade and currency violations. He also was attending a dinner welcoming leaders from APEC’s 21-member countries.