By Daniel Ikenson
President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on his first day in office. That would be an especially excessive move, given that the TPP can have no effect, anyway, without the president’s signature affixed to legislation implementing the deal. A wiser approach would be for Mr. Trump to put the TPP on the back burner and keep open the option to reconsider it in the future, when the deal’s geostrategic imperative becomes more apparent.
THE UNITED STATES IN THE ASIAN CENTURY
Completed in 2015 after six years of rigorous negotiations, the TPP is an agreement to reduce trade and investment barriers among 12 Pacific Rim countries, including the United States. If implemented, the TPP would deliver real economic benefits to U.S. businesses, workers, consumers, and investors. Perhaps more important in a time of growing uncertainty about the direction of global affairs, the TPP would reaffirm the primacy of the rules and institutions established under U.S. leadership after World War II. That architecture provided the conditions for trade to flourish, relative peace to take hold, and unparalleled prosperity to persist for 70 years.
Indeed, the geostrategic rationale for TPP is much less about achieving overt economic and security objectives than it is about preserving—and strengthening—U.S. soft power. As the economic center of gravity shifts from West to East across the Pacific, those successful trade rules and institutions could yield to lesser, opaque, and discriminatory rules, which could become the norm in Asia without the TPP. And those rules could very well subvert the existing order, advance parochial objectives, and disadvantage U.S. commercial interests.
Ratification of the TPP is the greatest insurance policy against those outcomes. It would affirm the primacy of open trade, non-discrimination, and transparency. It would ensure that rules—and not the whims of autocrats—continue to govern global commerce, reducing uncertainty and the scope for denying U.S. entities rightful opportunities to partake of the benefits of Asia’s economic expansion in the decades ahead. In that sense, TPP implementation would extend Pax Americana deep into what has been called the Asian century.
Through eight successful rounds of multilateral trade liberalization under the auspices of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade between 1947 and 1994, the global economy shed the tightest shackles of protectionism. The last successful multilateral agreement—the Uruguay Round, held between 1986 and 1994—created the World Trade Organization, which enshrines the previous half century’s trade rules and serves as a beacon that guides disputes away from trade wars and toward resolution.
But in the last decade momentum for continued multilateral liberalization stalled and the ill-fated Doha Round was unofficially eulogized.
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