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Obama pitches Democrats on Pacific Rim trade deal

WASHINGTON >> President Barack Obama promised Democratic lawmakers and others Wednesday they’re going to like what they see when the final text of a trade deal with Pacific Rim countries becomes public in coming weeks.

Obama is seeking Democratic support for a deal that would reduce or eliminate thousands of tariffs on U.S. goods shipped to the participating nations, which include Australia, Japan and Vietnam.

But it’s not going to be an easy sell with many congressional Democrats. A key base of support, labor unions, worries that the deal would put downward pressure on wages. All of the Democrats running for president are opposing the deal.

The meeting Wednesday at the White House was with those lawmakers who helped pass legislation earlier this year that allows Obama to present Congress with proposed trade agreements that it can ratify or reject but not change. A vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership is expected in early 2016.

Democratic Rep. Scott Peters of California said before the meeting that he wants to read the trade deal and hear back from constituents before he makes a decision, but “if President Obama brings back what he said he was going to bring back, I’ll be pretty favorably disposed.”

Peters said businesses in his home district in San Diego are excited about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. “We’re a trade city,” he said. “We benefit a lot from trade with Mexico and the Pacific Rim already. I think the business community sees an opportunity to expand those relationships.” Local labor unions, he said, are aligned with the national groups that oppose the trade agreement.

Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia, who attended the event, said the meeting with lawmakers was informal and more like a reception. He said Obama was upbeat and told lawmakers “you’re going to like what you see.” While Connolly also said he remains non-committed until reading the pact, he said he believes it will put an American imprint on human rights and environmental and labor standards in other nations, countering China’s growing influence in the region.

“I believe that this is going to be one of the most transformative economic arrangements in modern history,” Connolly said of the pact.

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