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Editorial: Free trade makes for strange alliances

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Politics, as the saying goes, certainly makes for strange bedfellows. It also can make for strange enemies as well, where groups that normally see eye-to-eye face off on a particular topic.

During President Obama's State of the Union address, the issue that flipped the tables was free trade. Republican members of Congress applauded when Obama discussed the need for trade promotion authority that would make it easier to pass the Trans Pacific Partnership.

The 12-country trade deal, if approved, theoretically would lead to more open markets for U.S.-produced goods across nine countries in the Asia-Pacific region. This in turn could give U.S. producers of such high-tech goods as auto parts more of a level playing field with products from other countries that have free trade agreements with the TPP nations, including China, India and the European Union.

That was the one topic from the address that had the GOP and such organizations as the National Association of Manufacturers in the president's corner. NAM said in its post-speech statement that domestic manufacturers have long called for the trade promotion authority to open export opportunities to the 95 percent of consumers living outside the U.S.

It also was the issue that brought the most criticism from many fellow Democrats, along with the president's union allies. While pledging to back Obama on most issues, United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said union members “have had to pay the price for past trade deals” and that the union will “fight for a different approach that will expand production and employment here at home.”

Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, said the president needs to address the issue of currency manipulation, particularly with Japan, or the TPP would put auto jobs in the U.S. at risk.

However, with the GOP-controlled Congress it is likely that such trade agreements will be among the few pieces of legislations that the president and Congress may be able to agree on, and pass.