Obama touts auto bailout success, Michigan worries about trade

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a visit to the Ford Assembly Plant in Detroit, Michigan January 7, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (Reuters)

By Jeff Mason WAYNE, Mich. (Reuters) - President Barack Obama, on a trip to unveil elements of his State of the Union address, took a victory lap in Michigan on Wednesday to tout his support of the auto industry, but concerns about trade policies hung in the background of his tour. "America's resurgence is real," Obama said at a Ford Motor Co plant near Detroit after walking around the factory and sitting in a Mustang. Obama noted that his government-backed bailout of the auto industry was not popular, even in Michigan, but had been a success. "Betting on you was the right thing to do," he told cheering workers at the plant. "That bet has paid off for America." Obama will deliver his State of the Union address on Jan. 20 to the new Congress which, for the first time in his presidency, is controlled completely by Republicans. The White House hopes he can make progress on issues such as tax reform, infrastructure investments, and trade with lawmakers. But his push for new trade agreements is controversial in Michigan, where advocates and local officials say a Korean free trade agreement has helped that country's auto industry significantly more than the U.S. sector. "That agreement generally has just slammed Michigan," said Lori Wallach, director of Global Trade Watch, an advocacy group, in an interview. White House spokesman Josh Earnest, without commenting specifically on how the Korean auto industry had benefited, said the success of U.S. car companies in the last few years showed that they had not suffered as a result of the agreement. Obama's administration is pushing for a 12-country free trade agreement in the Asia-Pacific known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP.) Critics of such pacts argue that they would hurt manufacturing jobs like those in the resurgent auto industry. "I have grave concerns about trade policy and the implications for our manufacturing base," said U.S. Congressman Dan Kildee of Michigan, a fellow Democrat, in an interview before Obama's trip. "I think (Obama) will find that many in Detroit share the concern that I've articulated that these trade agreements ... often have the effect of undermining the core of our economy, which I think is manufacturing," he said. Obama did not concentrate on trade in his speech. On Thursday, his second day of the trip, he plans to unveil housing measures that would widen access to mortgages. (Editing by Matthew Lewis)