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TPP trade deal front-and-center as Obama hosts Singapore's PM at White House

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For once, President Obama had somebody in the same boat as him regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) when he welcomed Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to the White House Tuesday morning. 

Obama warned that to "pull up the drawbridge" on the trade deal would only hurt the U.S. and its local workers. 

Lee also expressed his unequivocal backing of the TPP, urging Americans to voice their support of it and for America to maintain its "indispensable role" in Asia-Pacific. 

Lee was at the White House with Obama to celebrate the 50th anniversary of U.S. diplomatic relations with Singapore.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Explained

What exactly is the TPP again?

It's a trade agreement among 12 countries along the Pacific Rim including Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Singapore and Vietnam with the aim to "promote economic growth," primarily by lowering trade barriers, such as tariffs. These 12 countries account for one third of world trade.

According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, the aim of the TPP is to:

  • Reduce or eliminate tariffs to create new business opportunities (a tariff is a tax or duty to be paid on a particular class of imports or exports, like those placed on the dairy and sugar industries in the US)
  • Address new trade challenges, like the development of the digital economy 
  • Help "small" and "medium" size businesses take full advantage of regional trade
  • A platform to allow countries in the Asia-Pacific region to also enter in the agreement going forward

Singapore, an island nation of 5.7 million people is heavily dependent on international trade for its prosperity and growth. In 2004, it became the first Asian country to strike a bilateral free trade agreement with the U.S. Trade in goods between the two countries totaled $47 billion last year.

However, Lee's visit to Washington comes at a time when there is intense bipartisan opposition to the TPP -- both from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. On the campaign trail, both have come out against the deal. 

TPP trade deal front-and-center as Obama hosts Singapore's PM at White House

The presidential candidates, as well as a number of members of Congress, have expressed concerns with the TPP, primarily regarding potential trade deficits, losing jobs to other countries within the TPP, intellectual property concerns and of course the notion that the deal could favor corporate interests instead of the average person.

On Tuesday, Obama fired back at the opposition from 2016 candidates saying, "Right now I'm president and I'm for it, and I think I have the better argument." 

The Obama administration is doubling down on its efforts to win Congressional approval for the TPP. Currently, the chances of TPP passing in Congress during the "lame duck" session, after the Nov. 8 election and before the new president takes office in January, appear slim due to opposition to the deal, not the least from Obama's fellow Democrats themselves.

"If at the end, if we're waiting at the altar the bride doesn't arrive, I think there are people who are going to feel really hurt, not just emotionally, but really damaged for a long time to come," Lee said, adding that confidence in the U.S. would be undermined. 

What is the current status of the TPP trade deal?

On Feb. 4, 2016, all 12 nations that are part of the deal signed it in Auckland, New Zealand. This signing only signifies the beginning of the next phase in actually finalizing and implementing the deal.

In the U.S., Members of Congress have 90 legislative days to review the deal once the president sends it to them and can only cast a simple "up or down" vote, either approving the deal or rejecting it with no amendments. In April 2016, President Obama said he would send the deal to Congress in the fall of 2016, after the primary season was over and the politics had settled down.

Are you in favor of or against the TPP?

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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