[WASHINGTON] US President Barack Obama said on Monday that a Chinese-led regional trade deal demonstrated the urgent need for Congress to approve the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.
Mr Obama has been pushing to finalize the TPP before he leaves office on Jan 20, but he needs to overcome strong anti-trade sentiment from both the left wing of his own Democratic Party as well as from the right flank of the Republican Party.
Voter anxiety over the impact of trade deals on jobs and the environment has featured large in the campaigns of Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner for the Nov 8 presidential election, and US Senator Bernie Sanders, who is running against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.
In an opinion piece published on the website of the Washington Post on Monday, Mr Obama said he understood voter scepticism but that "building walls to isolate ourselves from the global economy" would backfire on the American economy.
"China is negotiating a trade deal that would carve up some of the fastest-growing markets in the world at our expense, putting American jobs, businesses and goods at risk," Mr Obama said in the piece.
Mr Obama was referring to the 16-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, and noted that China was seeking to finalize the deal by the end of the year.
"That trade deal won't prevent unfair competition among government-subsidized, state-owned enterprises. It won't protect a free and open Internet," Mr Obama said, also criticizing the RCEP's lack of protections for intellectual property, labour standards and the environment.
Mr Obama, who plans a visit to TPP partners Japan and Vietnam later this month, argued the TPP would allow America to "call the shots" on trade with Asia. "That's why my administration is working closely with leaders in congress to secure bipartisan approval for our trade agreement, mindful that the longer we wait, the harder it will be to pass the TPP," he said.
Asked about Mr Obama's comments, China's Foreign Ministry said global trade rules should be discussed by all countries, not just set by one.
China has an open attitude towards TPP, which should be promoted together along with RCEP to help achieve the goal of a free trade zone in the Asia Pacific, ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news briefing in Beijing.