Could A TPP Failure Spell Disaster For US Power In Asia?


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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is on the rocks, and if President Barack Obama’s legacy trade deal fails, the U.S. may find itself ceding power to China and struggling to secure its preeminence in Asia, reports The Wall Street Journal.

The TPP, a 12-nation free-trade agreement, could eliminate around 18,000 tariffs inhibiting trade for roughly 40 percent of the global economy. Furthermore, Obama argues that this deal could boost American economic strength and restore American power in Asia, a region where a rapidly-rising China is undermining American efforts to reassert its leadership.

The White House asserts that the bulk of consumers are beyond our borders and American exports must be the pillar on which our economy is built.

The TPP also checks the rise of potentially-revisionist challengers. The Obama administration believes that if America does not write the rules for regional trade, “competitors who don’t share our values, like China, will step in and fill that void.”

Obama’s enthusiasm for the TPP may not be enough to save it from the wrath of U.S. politics though. A noticeable wave of anti-trade sentiment is rolling across the U.S., crippling Obama’s free-trade agreement.

Unions, environmentalists, workers’ rights groups, proponents of free speech, and financial reformers oppose the TPP. People fear that the TPP puts too much power in the hands of multilateral corporations, putting them on par with sovereign nations. Anti-TPP groups are also concerned that the deal will cost millions of Americans their jobs and move money up through the social echelon to social elites. Activists worry over environmental degradation along with dramatic increases in healthcare costs for foreign citizens.

Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton firmly oppose the TPP. Trump calls the trade agreement a “rape of our country,” and Clinton, who initially supported the deal but has since changed her position on it, has claimed, “I oppose it now, I’ll oppose it after the election, and I’ll oppose it as president.”

While Obama remains optimistic about this trade deal’s future, Congress probably will not vote on the TPP this year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in July, “the chances are pretty slim we’ll be looking at [the TPP] this year.” In August, House Speaker Paul Ryan said, “As long as we don’t have the votes, I see no point in bringing up an agreement only to defeat it.”

The TPP is a core component of the Obama administration’s Pivot to Asia. The U.S. initiated the TPP to curb Chinese attempts to turn economic strength into coercive hard power, explains The Wall Street Journal. This pact is also intended to restore American power in the region by securing a leading position for the U.S. in regional economics.

Colliding with American opposition to multilateral agreements designed to enhance trade, the likely outcome is that the TPP will “languish indefinitely,” reports The Washington Post.

Asia is one of the world’s most important markets, and a failure to lock in a position for the U.S. could prove detrimental to American economic strength. Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Kevin Brady told The New York Times, “We can’t grow America’s economy unless we’re not merely buying American but selling American all throughout the globe.”

More importantly, if the U.S. fails to ratify the TPP, the U.S. may signal to Asia that it will not uphold its commitments to the region, potentially costing the U.S. its leadership position and treasured status as Asia’s primary security guarantor. During his recent visit, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee said, “For America’s friends and partners, ratifying the TPP is a litmus test of [America’s] credibility and seriousness of purpose.”

Asian states are already expressing concern over the U.S.-led free trade initiative.

Tran Du Lich, a former Vietnamese trade adviser, told Aljazeera, “The TPP will be good for Vietnam, but that doesn’t mean the economy in the future depends on it.” His statements indicate that Vietnam may already be making other plans in preparation for a TPP meltdown.

Prime Minister Lee suggested that Japan and other regional states may reconsider their security arrangements with the U.S. if the TPP starts to fall apart. “The Japanese, living in an uncertain world, depending on an American nuclear umbrella, will have to say on trade: ‘The Americans could not follow through. If it’s life and death, whom do I have to depend upon?’”

China, not a member of the TPP, is a strong advocate for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a 16-nation free trade deal, which excludes the U.S. and could be approved before the end of the year.

“We’re a vote away from either cementing our leadership in the region or handing the keys to the castle to China,” U.S. Trade Representative Mike Froman said in an official statement in July.

How the U.S. chooses to proceed on the TPP could permanently set the tone for American involvement in Asia. Former U.K. foreign officer Euan Graham told The Wall Street Journal that because the U.S. has invested so much in the TPP, this deal now transcends economics.

Graham argues, “To leave Asian partners hanging now would be disastrous for U.S. leadership in the region.”

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Ryan Pickrell