The Cable

Defense Chief Carter Touts Benefits of Pacific Trade Deal

Could support from unconventional corners give the languishing trade deal a shot in the arm?

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 19:  Defense Undersecretary for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Ashton Carter testifies during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee May 19, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The hearing was held to examine the F-35 joint strike fighter program in review of the defense authorization request for FY2012 and the future years defense program.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 19: Defense Undersecretary for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Ashton Carter testifies during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee May 19, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The hearing was held to examine the F-35 joint strike fighter program in review of the defense authorization request for FY2012 and the future years defense program. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

A long-planned, 12-nation trade pact is at the heart of President Barack Obama’s pivot to Asia. But the deal is languishing, with lackluster support from Democrats and congressional Republicans missing in action. Could the trade deal now get a boost from an unlikely quarter?

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter zeroed in on the economic and security dividends of the potential trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), on a stopover Monday in Arizona before flying to Japan for the first leg of his first Asian trip.

“You may not expect to hear this from a Secretary of Defense, but in terms of our rebalance in the broadest sense, passing TPP is as important to me as another aircraft carrier,” he said in a speech at Arizona State University. “I never forget that our military strength ultimately rests on the foundation of our vibrant, unmatched, and growing economy,” Carter said, echoing Alexander Hamilton and Dwight D. Eisenhower, both of whom put economic health at the center of U.S. security.

Carter’s framing of the pacific rim trade deal as a strategic priority comes at the same time that the trade negotiations got the nod from an industry with much to win or lose in the international market: Hollywood. Music moguls and movie-makers are hoping the deal will include beefed-up copyright protection that could prove lucrative for the struggling industry. Other industrial giants, from consumer products companies to Wall Street banks, also see the TPP’s intellectual property provisions as key selling points in a regional trade pact that would bring together an estimated $27 trillion worth of economic activity.

The trade agreement, along with another European pact, are both part of the Obama administration’s ambitious agenda to lower barriers for U.S. companies abroad and increase exports. But trade negotiations have faced stiff opposition from unions and many liberal lawmakers.

Many observers predicted the Republican takeover of Congress this year would be a boost for the trade deals, but so far the administration has struggled to rally support for “trade promotion authority,” the legislation that gives the administration the go-ahead to negotiate a deal and bring it before Congress for an up-or-down vote.

Carter’s vociferous support of the TPP didn’t come out of the blue. He supported the deal while the Pentagon’s number two in recent years. But by equating a seemingly boring trade agreement with the allure of an $11 billion nuclear flagship, Carter’s speech underscored the economic strength has roared back into the center of the Pentagon’s worldview.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

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