By Michael Auslin
Days before U.S. President-elect Donald Trump takes office, there are few that hold out hope for the survival of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama’s failure to push the 12-nation pact through the U.S. Congress allowed it to become a political football in the 2016 presidential election, disavowed by both Trump and his opponent, Hillary Clinton. The majority of Congress members also found it too toxic to touch in an election season dominated by populist discussion about protecting U.S. workers from the ravages of free trade.
Some of Trump’s senior advisers, such as Peter Navarro, incoming head of the new National Trade Council, have declared that the TPP will not be resurrected. Other voices, including the economists Larry Kudlow and Stephen Moore, have supported the TPP in the past and indicated that it might be renegotiated. Having made a public announcement just after the election that he intends to withdraw from the TPP on “day one,” however, Trump will find it difficult to back down, at least without a backup plan.
Such a backup plan has already been hinted at by the president-elect, who on multiple occasions has noted his preference for transparent bilateral trade agreements that do not harm U.S. workers. Critics who say that Trump is an economic mercantilist opposed to free trade thus caricature his position without fully acknowledging the free trade policy he might in fact pursue.
Trump’s opposition to the TPP is perhaps the final nail in the coffin for large free trade pacts. Since the demise of the World Trade Organization’s Doha Round negotiations in 2008, there has been almost no movement on a global trade agenda. Instead, the TPP and its cousin, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, represented a new era of major yet still regional free trade negotiations. In spanning the Pacific and incorporating nearly 40 percent of global GDP and one-third of global trade, the TPP was the most important regional trade pact negotiated during the Obama administration. And now even such geographically limited agreements seem off the table.
Picture: East Asia and Pacific Media Hub U.S. Department of State [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons