National Press Club

Commerce Secretary Pritzker defends Trans-Pacific trade pact at NPC luncheon

April 18, 2016 | By Lawrence Feinberg |

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker defends Trans-Pacific trade pact at NPC luncheon, April 18

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker defends Trans-Pacific trade pact at NPC luncheon, April 18

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, strongly defending the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, predicted it would be ratified by Congress this year despite criticism from the leading contenders for both the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations.

“I think the window [for Congressional ratification] is this year," Pritzker said at a National Press Club luncheon April 18, adding "at the end of the day I think we will do the right thing.” She said support for the 12-nation agreement, signed by the Obama Administration in February, is “much stronger than reported in the press.”

By cutting tariffs and harmonizing labor and environmental standards, the trade pact would expand American exports and increase American jobs, she said. Rejecting the TPP would cost $94 billion in U.S. economic output in one year, she added. To become effective, the agreement must be approved by a majority vote in both houses of Congress.

Since it was announced, the TPP has drawn criticism from Republican candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernard Sanders. The only remaining major party candidate to support it is Republican John Kasich. The critics contend the pact will do little to expand the sale of American products abroad while reducing jobs and worker pay in the U.S.

In a discussion with Press Club president Thomas Burr, Pritzker said the pact would be particularly helpful in boosting exports of agricultural and digital products and manufactured goods that rely on advanced technology. She said the Obama administration is strongly committed to retraining programs to help any workers displaced by imports to get better jobs.

The TPP is the largest regional tariff-cutting agreement ever signed by the U.S. The other countries included are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. Together, they account for about 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product.

The pact does not include China, and while Pritzker did not refer to that country directly, she said the agreement is good “for the security interests of the United States.” She added that “if we are not selling our goods and services [to these Pacific Rim countries], both our workers and our companies will be left behind.”

Pritzker is the only billionaire in the President’s cabinet and was a key fundraiser for Obama in both his Senate and Presidential campaigns. She said that during his administration, the U.S. economy has made major gains since the recession that started in 2007, but said “wage and income inequality” have become important problems. She said wages are above average both in the 11.5 million American jobs that depend on sales outside the nation and for the 5.6 million Americans employed by foreign-owned U.S. firms.