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US To Withdraw From TPP; By Carlyle A. Thayer

C3S Paper No. 0146/2016

Courtesy: Carlyle A. Thayer, “US To Withdraw From TPP,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, November 22,2016

Q1. Could you please share some thoughts when Donald Trump announced that the US will withdraw from TPP?

Donald Trump’s release of a video announcing his priorities for his first 100 days in office came as a surprise. His first priority was to announced that the US would withdraw from the TPP. He made that pledge during his campaign. This announcement will disappoint Prime Ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Shnizo Abe. Turnbull was one of the first foreign leaders to telephone Trump. Abe was the first foreign leader to meet Trump after the election. Both Prime Ministers lobbied for the TPP.

It is too early to declare the TPP dead but it is on life support. Prime Minister Tiurnbull has stated that it might be possible to renegotiate the TPP. Several countries that signed the TPP met in Lima, Peru on the sidelines of the APEC Summit to discuss moving ahead without the United States and possibly inviting China to join This is not likely at the TPP sets standards that China is reluctant to meet.

There are two possibilities. The first is that when Trump appoints his Secretary of State this might provide an opportunity to re-look at the TPP and perhaps re-open negotiations to get US agreement. But we do not know who the new Secretary of State be. Trump has already appointed two conservatives as his chief strategist and national security adviser. Both are not well versed in international economics. So the new Secretary of State will have a lot of herd work to do to convince Trumps’s closest advisers.

The second possibility is that Southeast Asian signatories to the TPP could move to bring forward discussions on a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership including China.

The bottom line is that the TPP that Vietnam has signed but not yet ratified is unlikely to be passed in its present form. Trump stated he will pursue free trade agreements on a bilateral basis. This could take several years in Vietnam’s case. All the eleven signatories of the TPP will need to co-ordinate their lobbying of the new US Secretary of State and other relevant Cabinet-level officials in a Trump Administration on the merits of the TPP.

 Q2. What are impacts for Asia on security and economic aspects?

ANSWER: The TPP was the economic leg of President Obama’s rebalance to Asia-Pacific. Trumps withdrawal from the TPP will seriously harm the ability of the US to exert leadership in the Asia-Pacific Region. China will step into this vacuum as Xi Jinping is now promoting an alternate the Free trade Agreement of the Asia Pacific. The US security presence is now in grave danger due to President Duterte’s hostile anti-American rhetoric. Trump’s plan to build up the US military will take years before it comes into effect. It looks as if Southeast Asia must brace itself for an isolationist United States that prefers unilateralism and bilateralism over multilateralism. Trump’s approach risks undermining all the hard work by President Obama in backing ASEAN and ASEAN-related security mechanisms. I offer theses views with a degree go caution. Trump has little experience in foreign affairs and it might just be possible that members of his Cabinet and Republicans in the Congress can act as a brake. In other words, we are faced with a period of unpredictability and uncertainty.

[Carlyle A. Thayer is Emeritus Professor, The University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra. Email: c.thayer@adfa.edu.au. All background briefs are posted on Scribd.com (search for Thayer). Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and other research support to selected clients.]

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