U.S. President Barack Obama is desperate to conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade deal among a dozen Pacific nations, before he leaves office. Japan has beat him to the punch — literally.
On Friday, Japanese lawmakers voted to ratify the deal which, if implemented, would create a free trade zone encompassing 40 percent of global GDP. It didn’t come easy; the trade pact was pushed through a special committee only after shoving matches and scuffles broke out on the committee floor.
Some Japanese lawmakers objected to provisions in the pact, and said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and others who back the deal were acting too quickly. Abe maintains the agreement would help Japan’s ailing export-fueled economy by lowering tariffs, while opening Japan’s agricultural sector to more competition to just spur Japanese farmers to work harder.
Japan is the second-largest economy among the 12 TPP nations, and its ratification of the pact amounts to a small victory for the White House. Obama continues to push for ratification of the deal during the lame-duck legislative session after the election; the White House Council of Economic Advisers published a study that found millions of American jobs are at risk of moving to China if the agreement is not put in place.
The council also said that China’s Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a trade deal between Beijing and its Asian neighbors meant to rival TPP, would double tariffs on goods from Japan, a major trade partner with China. The report came just as China continued a round of RCEP talks with its prospective partners in the Philippines Friday.
But the chances of TPP’s passage in Washington before the president leaves office remain slim. Both presidential candidates, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, are against the deal, as is congressional leadership.
Obama, who will advocate for the accord in Peru later this month, did win three new allies on Friday. Brent Scowcroft, James Jones, and Stephen Hadley — all former national security advisors in Democratic and Republican administrations — released a letter arguing that TPP was necessary to secure America’s place in the wider world.
“Approval of this agreement would send a clear signal to America’s Asia-Pacific partners, but also to those around the world, that the United States will continue to be a leader — working with other states — in setting the global rules,” they wrote.
Whether this sways lawmakers opposed to the deal remains to be seen. But it appears unlikely at a time when economic anxiety, and especially concerns over the impact of globalization, seem to be undermining public appetite for an expansive U.S. role in the world.
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