We’ve now witnessed the first week of Donald Trump’s Presidential administration in the United States. And as a result, perhaps we can all agree about one observation:
He’s no Hillary Clinton, is he?
Ironically, though, Trump and Clinton had actually concurred on one of his least controversial executive actions. It was his Presidential declaration that the United States would withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), thereby causing its disintegration.
So what was the TPP? It was a trade agreement that the United States had finalized with one dozen nations throughout the Pacific Rim. Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and other U.S. Presidential candidates had all vowed to torpedo the agreement; last week, Trump simply executed their bipartisan pledge.
Regrettably, though, this Presidential action has the potential to inflict significant long term harm on America’s international relationships. A brief review of the Partnership’s history may illuminate the potential impact of its demise.
The TPP began its existence on a far smaller scale, with Brunei, Chile, Singapore and New Zealand signing a Trans Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership (TPSEP) Agreement in 2005. Three years later, under Republican President George W. Bush, the United States promoted a massive initiative by far larger nations to broaden and extend the trade agreement.
That American-led effort launched seven long years of negotiations among a dozen nations, featuring nineteen formal rounds of talks that were followed by sixteen meetings of government ministers and negotiators. For relatively small nations such as Brunei and Singapore, as well as for larger emerging nations such as Malaysia and Vietnam, the grueling effort likely displaced other potential treaty initiatives.
And so what transpired at the conclusion of this incredibly long and difficult process? The United States, in essence, walked away from the table and destroyed the Partnership. After a bipartisan pair of American Presidents cajoled its allies to make politically difficult choices in support of free trade and globalization, the United States opted to sabotage its own agreement.
On the one hand, of course, the critics of the TPP voiced reasonable concerns about certain terms of the agreement. And they may have been correct to note that the general agreement possessed structural flaws.
But on the other hand, it’s difficult to disagree with this simple question of human nature:
After having been pushed and prodded by the United States to expand the original TPSEP agreement, and after having wasted seven long years on negotiations to craft the far more complex TPP, why would any of these nations — or any other nation, for that matter — ever feel comfortable entering another lengthy and complex negotiation with the United States?
There’s a message, embedded in that question, for American citizens who dislike certain Partnership elements, and who may be celebrating the treaty’s collapse. They may be drawing some comfort from the bipartisan level of political consensus regarding this decision.
But these U.S. citizens may reconsider their position the next time that their government leaders attempt to develop an international coalition to negotiate a solution to a vexing problem. At that future time, American leaders may discover that the leaders of other nations are no longer so eager to negotiate with them.