Reversing a Mistake: Rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership
International trade is the beating heart of the world economy. From Christmas gifts to lifesaving medicines, the United States relies on trade arteries that stretch around the globe. Yet ever since the United States withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), our vital signs on trade have been weakening.
The United States has long been the foremost proponent and primary beneficiary of international trade agreements in the post-war period. The United States’ withdrawal from the TPP has had harmful economic and geopolitical consequences. It is increasingly important that the United States reclaim its leadership position in setting global trade rules, reestablish its relationship with its allies in Asia, and rebuild the American economy. The United States needs to rejoin the TPP.
The TPP was formally signed in 2016. Its twelve member states from the Pacific Rim included long-time partners Japan, Australia, Mexico, and Canada. The agreement aimed to boost members’ economies through reforms such as eliminating tariffs and opening market access. In addition to its economic benefits, the agreement had a significant geopolitical impact. Its members represented 40 percent of global gross domestic product, and would have been a powerful counterweight to China’s economic influence in the region. For instance, the bloc could have done much more together to sanction China for its abuses in Xinjiang than separately.
But in the United States, there has been a dramatic shift against such agreements in recent years. Free trade deals have been blamed for problems such as stagnating wages and manufacturing jobs moving overseas. Though a majority of the studies showed the trade agreement would be a net benefit for Americans of all stripes, these concerns led to the United States’ withdrawal from the TPP in 2017.
Other members of the agreement moved on without Washington. They formed the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Without the United States, the agreement has brought its member states all closer together, made them more prosperous, and enhanced their presence on the global stage. The CPTPP is largely the same as the original TPP. But, with China now applying to join, Beijing will gladly fill the leadership role on trade if Washington cedes it. The United States’ retreat from the agreement that it played a major part in building was ill-advised and should now be reversed.
Rejoining the agreement will uplift Americans from all walks of life. Its streamlined regulations and restrictions on monopolies will enable far easier access to other nations’ goods, investments, and services for both large and small businesses. The agreement goes farther than any previous trade deal in raising labor and environmental standards. It commits its members to allow workers to form unions, to prohibit child labor, and to build more sustainable economies. Reenlisting in the agreement will help get Americans, both blue- and white-collar, back on their feet after the damage wrought by the pandemic.
U.S.-led trade deals also lead to positive economic reforms elsewhere. For example, members of the agreement with highly restrictive labor laws such as Vietnam and Malaysia pledged to reform them, enticed by the opportunity to access multiple new markets. Without the agreement, Indo-Pacific nations will be more likely to turn to China’s alternative, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which features few of the regulations and reforms present in the CPTPP.
There are concerns that free trade deals are a net negative for American workers and result in intellectual property theft. Yet the substantial majority of economic studies done on the agreement have shown that it would be a benefit to both American workers and businesses. Earmarking funding for job retraining and support programs for any American workers who do lose their jobs because of the agreement would likely do much to gain support in Congress, especially among progressive and moderate Democrats. The agreement has some of the strongest labor and environmental regulations of any trade deal, as well as the support of the National Association of Manufacturers. It also bans government policies that force companies to hand over their intellectual property.
The pandemic has made it painfully clear that no nation can cut itself off from the world. Now more than ever, the United States must reclaim its role as the standard-bearer of the international community that is cautiously reconnecting. Rejoining the agreement will restore the heartbeat of international trade and help uplift all Americans. It will show our allies that America sticks to its word, and it will make the world a safer and more prosperous place.