TPP: Moving Forward without Losing Progress

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has been approved in the Japanese Diet. Japan, which aimed to make expanded free trade and the avoidance of protectionism cornerstones of growth, has made its case both at home and abroad.

United States President-Elect Donald J. Trump has expressed his desire to withdraw from the TPP, making the promulgation of the agreement an extremely difficult proposition. However, it would be enormously wasteful were the twelve participating countries to do nothing to save the achievements which they have gained over the course of intense TPP negotiations.

Even if Trump formally announce the withdrawal of the United States from TPP following his inauguration in January, nothing changes insofar as that the remaining eleven nations must continue strongly to urge him to reconsider. As the second most economically powerful country in the region after the United States, Japan has an obligation to exercise leadership towards solidarity, and to search for some policy that will put the agreement to work in fostering true free trade.

At a meeting held last month following the US presidential election, the leaders of the TPP participating countries reaffirmed their dedication to continuing the domestic procedures needed to bring the TPP into effect. It is only natural that Japan took the initiative in bringing this solidarity about.

The TPP, which promises fair rules and high-level liberalization of trade, is an advanced arrangement which sets the world standard for trade agreements. It is highly significant that the TPP is not a partnership among nations with poorly developed market economies and deficiencies in the rule of law, but, rather, one built up by liberal countries such as Japan.

If the TPP stalls and each individual country leans more sharply towards China, then the influence of China within the region will surely shoot up dramatically. There is genuine cause for concern: this increased Chinese influence will probably include a strengthening of China’s hegemonic tendencies on both the economic and the military fronts.

Going forward, the countries within the TPP alliance should hold discussions about promulgating the TPP without the United States, and also about waiting for America to rejoin the partnership. It was understood from the beginning that the TPP would not work without the participation of the United States, so the current situation calls for renegotiation.

The eleven non-American signatories to the TPP agreed to join the partnership in anticipation of the benefits awaiting them in the US market. It goes without saying that razing that composition and revising the agreement, which is so intricate that it has been called “glasswork,” will prove highly difficult. Even in this case, though, Japan must put all of its expertise into play and spare no effort in becoming a driving force in rising to meet these challenges.

Those countries which have already expressed an interest in the TPP, such as Indonesia, Thailand, and Taiwan, must also be encouraged to participate in the partnership.

President-Elect Trump wishes to engage in bilateral negotiations in place of the TPP. However, there is no need for Japan to scrap the project of establishing, by means of the TPP, an economic sphere of shared values such as free trade and democracy, and then of spreading that model to the rest of the world.

At the same time, it is also important to indicate with actions that Japan rejects protectionism, such as by concluding negotiations over an economic partnership agreement (EPA) with the European Union.

Sankei Shimbun’s Leading article

December 10, 2016

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