WASHINGTON — Sen. Rob Portman announced Thursday he will oppose a sweeping trade agreement negotiated by the Obama administration and 11 other countries, mostly in the Asia-Pacific region.
[Deirdre Sheesgreen| February, 04 2016 | Cincinnat!]
It’s a surprise move from the Ohio Republican, who served as the chief trade negotiator for President George W. Bush and who supported the North American Free Trade Agreement and a series of subsequent trade deals.
Portman defended his position on Thursday as consistent, saying he has always supported free trade as long as it’s also fair to American workers.
“I can’t support this (Trans-Pacific Partnership) in its current form because it doesn’t provide that level playing field,” Portman said in a call with Ohio reporters Thursday.
But Portman’s Democratic foes called the senator’s announcement an election-year conversion on a hot-button economic issue.
“For decades, Senator Rob Portman has turned his back on Ohio’s workers every chance he got — prioritizing China’s interests at the expense of our working families,” said former Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democratic candidate in the Senate race. He noted that Portman supported a fast-track bill that allows the trade pact to be “rammed” through Congress, only to turn around and say he’d vote against the deal.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is the largest trade agreement since NAFTA. Supporters say it will knock down barriers for U.S. exports, create American jobs, and make the U.S. more competitive in the global marketplace.
But opponents, including Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, say the trade deal will cost jobs and depress wages, as more American companies shift jobs overseas where labor and environmental laws are more lax. Union leaders have called the deal a giveaway to multinational corporations.
As Bush’s trade representative, Portman helped negotiate such free trade agreements, and he notched a big win in 2005 when Congress passed the Central American Free Trade Agreement, a priority for the Bush administration.
“From an economic point of view, trade will always be something positive for growth,” Portman said in a 2005 interview.
Last year, as the Obama administration was negotiating the TPP, Portman voted in favor of fast-track legislation, which allows the president to send the final trade deal to Congress for a vote, with no opportunity for amendments.