The Final Fate of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

December 22, 2017 by Phuong Nguyen


On his fourth day in office, Trump signed the executive order formally ending the United States’ participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a core part of the Obama administration's strategic "Pivot to Asia" that aimed to secure U.S. commitment and write the rule of trade in the region. The TPP, the largest regional trade accord ever, was designed to bring together the United States and 11 other nations in a free-trade zone for about 40 percent of the world’s economy. It was intended to lower tariffs while establishing rules for resolving trade disputes, setting patents and protecting intellectual property. Most importantly, it finally brought the United States and Japan, the world’s largest and third-largest economies, together in a free-trade pact. Trump’s decision to abandon the TTP not only erased his predecessor’s main legacy but also reversed the free-trade strategy adopted by presidents of both parties dating back to the Cold War.

Leaving the TPP will damage America’s image in the region since other countries may view the U.S. as an unreliable partner both economically and perhaps even in other important areas such as security and politics. It is inevitable for governments in Asia to  be concerned about Trump administration’s long-term commitment to the economic prosperity and security of the region, given Trump's sharp policy shifts from “Pivoting Asia” to “America First.”. Additionally, the U.S. risks losing its dominating position in Asia, leaving room for its growing rival China to fill in the power gap. China has already been working on an alternative pact, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which includes 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations with Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India.

Trump’s 12-day Asia tour this November was aimed to strengthen the relationship with the Indo-Pacific region, but  11 countries originally in the TPP have already decided to move on without the United States. Japan, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Chile, Peru, New Zealand and Brunei recently announced that they had committed to resurrecting the Trans-Pacific Partnership multinational trade agreement. Even without the U.S., this will still be the largest trade agreement in history. The agreement will “serve as a foundation for building a broader free-trade area,” across Asia, as Taro Kono, Japan’s foreign minister, said in a statement. While the Trans-Pacific Partnership has found its final fate, the future of Trump administration’s Asia policy is still uncertain.

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