Obama defends international trade deals

US President Barack Obama has delivered a strong defence of international trade deals in the face of domestic and foreign opposition, saying it’s “indisputable” that such agreements strengthen the economy and make US businesses more competitive worldwide.

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Obama, on a farewell visit to Germany as president, is trying to counter public scepticism about a trans-Atlantic trade deal with Europe, while also facing down criticism from the 2016 presidential candidates of a pending Asia-Pacific trade pact.

Despite all that, Obama on Sunday said, “the majority of people still favour trade. They still recognise, on balance, that it’s a good idea.”

“It is indisputable that it has made our economy stronger.”

He said he was confident the trans-Atlantic trade deal could be completed by the end of year, to be presented for ratification.

And he said that once the US presidential primary season is over and politics settle down, the trans-Pacific pact can “start moving forward.”

Obama, at a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, also made a strong public show of support for her handling of the migrant issue, saying she was “on the right side of history on this.”

Her decision to allow the resettlement in Germany of thousands fleeing violence in Syria and other Mideast conflict zones has created an angry domestic backlash.

Merkel recently helped European countries reach a deal with Turkey to ease the flow, but she and the other leaders are now under pressure to revisit it.

Obama said Merkel was “giving voice to the kinds of principles that bring people together rather than divide them,” and credited her with taking on some tough politics.

But the president reiterated US opposition to the idea of establishing a “safe zone” in Syrian territory, saying it would difficult to put in place.

“As a practical matter, sadly, it is very difficult to see how it would operate short of us essentially being willing to militarily take over a chunk of that country,” he said.

Merkel, in contrast, has endorsed the notion of creating areas that could provide safe haven for the thousands of migrants fleeing the violence, and said such zones would improve access to humanitarian aid.

She insisted the proposal would not require outside intervention, saying safe areas should be part of the Geneva peace negotiations that involve the Syrian government and moderate opposition groups.

Obama, looking to project a united front with a leader he referred to as his “trusted partner,” said making safe zones controlled by moderate opposition part of the peace talks shows that “here there’s no space between us.”

On Monday, Obama is to joining Merkel to tour the Hannover Messe trade fair and giving a speech on challenges facing the US and Europe.

Merkel has also used the occasion of Obama’s visit to invite the leaders of France, Britain and Italy to Hannover for a meeting Monday to discuss Syria, Libya, IS, migration and other issues.