WASHINGTON – Despite the Diet’s approval Friday of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the 12-nation free trade agreement is unlikely to come into force as it currently stands given U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s pledge to pull the United States out of it once he takes office in January.
Some scholars have suggested that if the Trump administration does quit the TPP, the 11 other member states should renegotiate the deal so it can go into effect without U.S. participation, rather than giving it up altogether.
The TPP, in its current form, can only take effect if it is ratified by at least six members that represent 85 percent of the combined gross domestic product of the 12 members. Without U.S. ratification, the free trade agreement would effectively be dead because the United States alone accounts for 60 percent of the group’s total GDP.
The scholars urged Japan, the second-largest economy in the TPP, which does not involve China, to take the lead in renegotiations so as to keep the deal’s spirit to establish high-standard trade rules for the Asia-Pacific region alive and to leave the door open for future U.S. reentry into the group.
Referring to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s pronouncement that the TPP “would be meaningless without the United States,” Stephan Haggard, a professor of political science at the University of California San Diego, said, “That’s not necessarily a right move.”
“If Japan were to step in and exercise leadership with respect to TPP and say, ‘Well, this is an agreement which these parties have negotiated, the Diet has ratified it and we see ourselves bound by these negotiations, and we are going to move forward, and we hope that the United States comes back,’ that might be an interesting move,” Haggard said.
“I don’t know if Abe is willing to do that. But I think it’s one of the options that has to be considered.”
Shihoko Goto, a senior associate for Northeast Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a Washington think tank, also called for Abe’s leadership in implementing what would be an 11-member TPP in the event of a U.S. exit.
Citing the possibility that Abe, who returned to power in December 2012, could serve until 2021, Goto said that with this stability Abe could “focus on broad legacy-building issues, which could certainly include redefining Japan’s role in the world.”
“With the United States and Europe — with the exception of Germany under Chancellor Angela Merkel — becoming increasingly inwardly focused, expectations for Japan to take on a greater role in promoting the development of international rules and global institutions … could actually rise,” Goto said. “Promoting TPP with 11 member countries instead of 12 could actually be the first step.”
Taking into account Trump’s insistence even after the Nov. 8 presidential election that he would replace the TPP with bilaterally negotiated trade deals that would “bring jobs and industry back onto American shores,” the survival — and the ultimate success — of the pact would effectively rest on Abe’s leadership.
While Trump’s announcement has prompted Vietnam to shelve its ratification of the TPP, Malaysia has said that if the TPP is a nonstarter, negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a proposed 16-nation, less-ambitious free trade agreement that does not include the United States, should be concluded as early as possible.
Seven of the 12 TPP members — Australia, Brunei, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam — are negotiating members of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership as well.
Referring to growing uncertainties about the TPP, Goto said, “This would be an opportunity for Abe to promote Japan as the leader in Asia and beyond to ensure stability and adherence to a new liberal economic order.”
Others argue that regardless of whether Trump will actually withdraw the United States from the TPP, it will be important for Tokyo and Washington to continue to push for high-standard trade rules in areas such as intellectual property rights, treatment of state-owned enterprises, labor provisions and environmental protection that are covered by the TPP but not in many other agreements.
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