President Trump is off to a fast start already fulfilling one of his major campaign promises by signing the executive order to officially withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. While many supporters of TPP are upset, there are many on the right and the left who are happy to see this agreement on the scrapheap before it could get started. Free Trade needs to be exactly that Free Trade
As a general rule trade partnerships like the one proposed TPP spend a lot of real estate of the agreement hammering out regulatory compliance. Some of these regulations are protectionist in nature and act to add barriers to new competitors entering the market and others are just feel good regulations designed to increase environmental protections. As reported in the National Review, a key provision of TPP had called “…for the incorporation – sight unseen – of whatever global-warming deal is negotiated at the conference currently under way in Paris.” Now of course many of these provisions were negotiated months in advance and had this moved forward it would have bound the US to whatever lunacy came out of that conference if it wanted to avoid violating this agreement. While the US has already signed onto the Paris Climate Agreement, moving forward with TPP would be yet another binding cord should the US Policy shift and want to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement.
Of course the Paris Climate Agreement was not the only regulatory agreement as TPP also sought to add other environmental and labor protections. While I generally can agree that trade agreements need to address these issues, wide ranging trade agreements like TPP usually try to fit each country involved into a narrowly defined box. The restrictive nature of these agreement will ultimately be a cause for conflicts between members and this then becomes an issue of Sovereignty the US. As The New American wrote, agreements like this always call for a form of “…conflict resolution tribunals (courts) that claim the authority to overrule national, state, and local laws, as well as national and state courts and national and state constitutions.” These type of agreements allow outside influences to become the law of the land by binding the US to any final arbitration decision made within that body regardless of how our courts rules or laws made by Congress.
My last issue with TPP and other massive trade deals that are hammered out in this fashion is that the US loses much of its relative bargaining power. It is very seductive to argue that hammering out a free trade deal with 12 different nations at once is a great thing. The issue is that you are negotiating with each of those 12 different nations simultaneously. If 3 or 4 of those nations all call for a specific provision that is not in the best interest of the US, it is much harder to push back on that specific provision if you want to move forward with the rest of the trade deal. If however, you are negotiating with each country individually, the US would have much better leverage to push back against the specific provision depending on the country. Additionally, when accepting that provision via a massive trade agreement, we also bind that provision as effective and enforceable by all members of that agreement instead of the 2 or 3 trading relationships where this may have been the case had the US negotiated each of those trade agreements separately.
While this was meant to be the culmination of Obama’s pivot to Asia foreign policy strategy, he was unable to push this over the line prior to his exit. At one point it had seemed that the TPP was on track to sail by Congress and roar into the station, but it appears to have finally been derailed with the appearance of the Trump Train.