Is Trump Serious About Rejoining TPP?
Partners Need to Consider Whether He is Playing a Short Game
Yesterday, multiple news outlets reported that President Donald Trump ordered US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to look into the possibility of the United States rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
If that’s true it would be a remarkable turnabout for a president who pulled the US out of the trade pact on his third day of office and who termed the deal a “disaster” while campaigning for office and “a rape of our country.” It would also go against his oft-repeated inclination to eschew multilateral deals and to negotiate bilateral pacts.
The TPP was negotiated during the Obama years under US leadership and in partnership with Japan, to include 12 Pacific countries in an accord that could stand up to Chinese influence in Asia.
“TPP represents an opportunity for the United States to help shape the rules of the road for the global economy, especially by contributing to the enhancement of standards on intellectual property,” Dean Pinkert, partner in Hughes Hubbard’s International Trade practice and a former Commissioner of the U.S. International Trade Commission, told Global Trade Daily. “In addition, the ITC has concluded that the United States stands to reap additional economic growth from participation in TPP.”
All that could still be true, but the eleven remaining TPP members have since concluded their own separate deal, based upon the original TPP and cutting or curtailing 22 measures which were urged on the agreement by the United States and accepted only reluctantly by its interlocutors. These provisions have been suspended, “suspended” being a key word.
The suspended provisions include the intellectual property chapter, which provided stringent requirements for technological protection measures (TPMs) and longer periods for medical patents and copyright protection. Even without those, the CPTPP’s IP chapter represents the world’s most advanced standards on intellectual property in a trade agreement; the chapter provides substantial protection to companies from having their innovations stolen when operating in other countries.
Trump has recently been ratcheting up a potential trade war with China, and apparently has come to the conclusion that he could use a few allies in that struggle, some of whom, like Japan, were spurned by Trump when he failed to exempt them from his steel and aluminum tariffs.
Trump has also been getting pushback from interests, like agriculture, that will be hurt by Chinese retaliation.
The fact that the TPP-11 “suspended” certain provisions suggested that they might be willing to reinstate them in some form if the US were to rejoin the agreement. The former TPP partners probably didn’t imagine that eventuality could come about so quickly. They will need to consider whether Trump is trying to play them to achieve a short-term gain.
Regardless of the outcome, the Trump administration’s game of see-saw policymaking has harmed US leadership and interests around the world and it will take some time for that to be undone.