Obama and Putin clash over trade at the United Nations

Tracey Samuelson Sep 28, 2015

More than three dozen heads of state took their turns at the United Nation’s podium Monday, from China’s Xi Jinping to Cuba’s Raul Castro. But among the stars of the show were Barack Obama and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. It was Obama’s second speech at the U.N. in two days, but the first for Putin in roughly a decade.

The 70th session of the U.N. General Assembly opened with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including 17 specific goals.

“Our aim is clear, our mission is possible and our destination is in our sights: an end to extreme poverty by 2030, a life of peace and dignity for all,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Monday.

Obama’s and Putin’s speeches preceded their first face-to-face meeting in nearly year. While both used their speeches to express support for the mission of the U.N. and called for countries to work together, they staked out opposing views on Syria, Ukraine and global trade.

Their focus on trade was likely prompted by ongoing negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Negotiators and trade ministers from the 12 TPP countries are meeting this week in Atlanta, hoping to work out the final details of an agreement that would cover 40 percent of world gross domestic product.

Obama mentioned the TPP briefly, saying it would open markets while protecting the rights of workers and the environment.

While Putin did not reference the TPP by name, he spent more than two minutes discussing trade issues.

“It seems that we are about to be faced with an accomplished fact that the rules of the game have been changed in favor of a narrow group of the privileged with the [World Trade Organization] having no say,” he said. “This could unbalance the trade system completely and disintegrate the global economic space.”

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