BY ERIC JOHNSTON JAPAN TIMES, TOKYO (TNS)
OSAKA: The stunning victory of Republican candidate Donald Trump in the US presidential election has dealt a fatal blow to the prospect of seeing the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement passed by the US Congress anytime soon, according to the pact’s supporters and opponents.
Trump will ride into the White House on a populist wave of anger in America’s industrial heartland toward multilateral trade deals like the 12-nation TPP, where concerns about losing jobs and political sovereignty to other countries through international trade deals was stronger than most pro-TPP politicians, media pundits and experts had realized.
Both houses of Congress are now controlled by the Republicans, who have traditionally favored international trade deals. But Trump, whose products are often manufactured abroad, was an early and vocal critic of TPP, calling it a disaster for the United States.
For Japan, the seemingly sudden and surprising rise of Trump and a Congress that appears hostile to the TPP have come as a shock. However, the Diet’s Lower House passed the TPP and related legislation Thursday, despite concerns among ruling and opposition parties about its fate in the US.
The decision will automatically stand after 30 days, even if the Upper House does not vote in favor.
LDP lawmakers said Japan hoped to send a message to the US by taking the initiative in ratifying the TPP, but the pact’s future in Washington looks dark following Trump’s victory.
One of Trump’s closest allies during the campaign, which often saw senior Republican figures distance themselves from him, was fierce TPP opponent Jeff Sessions, a senator from Alabama. Speaking to reporters at Trump’s victory party, Sessions said he thought the TPP was dead, and noted that both Trump and Clinton had opposed it.
Writing in Foreign Policy magazine earlier this week about the new president’s Asian policy, Trump advisers Peter Navarro and Alexander Gray said that Trump would never again sacrifice the US economy on the altar of foreign policy by passing bad trade deals like the TPP. “These deals only weaken our manufacturing base and ability to defend ourselves and our allies,” Navarro and Gray wrote.
While President Barack Obama and TPP supporters still hope to have it passed before Trump and the new Congress take office in January, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ruled out that possibility Wednesday.
“It’s certainly not going to be brought up this year,” McConnell said.
Its future next year is equally uncertain. While pro-TPP advocates in the US and Asia hope that Trump and Congress will have a change of heart, political analysts say the strength of his support in those sections of America where TPP opposition is greatest makes it politically impossible to get it passed.
“It would normally be good for trade for Republicans to hold the Senate and House, but not this year. The power that Trump’s anti-trade message gave is going to terrify the Congress. The TPP will now go nowhere,” said Paul Sracic, a professor and chair of politics and international relations and an expert on the TPP at Youngstown State University in Ohio.
At the moment, there are three possibilities regarding the trade pact’s short- and mid-term future in the US. Trump could declare the TPP dead and that he will only seek bilateral agreements with countries he feels he can negotiate fair deals with.
Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who unlike Trump has experience in Washington as a congressman and is close to House Speaker Paul Ryan, is a former TPP supporter. He turned against multilateral trade agreements after Indiana businesses began moving jobs to Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). But Pence has indicated his support for trade deals on a country-by-country basis, raising speculation Trump might push to scrap TPP in favor of bilateral trade deals with key Asian partners that agree to keep jobs in the US.
Declaring the TPP dead, however, is sure to anger America’s Asian allies who signed up to the treaty and create problems for US diplomacy in the region.
A second possibility is that Trump could demand that specific sections of the TPP be renegotiated to meet the demands of the Republican-controlled Congress. That would require the consent of the other TPP members and Japan, the other main TPP partner, has said it will not renegotiate.
It would also mean Trump would have to reverse his promise to oppose the agreement, a politically risky move for a new president who lost the popular vote and those Republican congressional representatives who, even though they once favored the TPP, now say they oppose it.
A national poll on the TPP conducted by Greenberg, Quinlan, and Rosner and released on Nov. 3 showed that the more TPP was debated during the 2016 presidential campaign, the more public opinion moved against it, especially in key states like Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania where support for Trump, and the Republicans, was high.
A third option is that Trump could be persuaded by the pro-TPP lobby in the US to wait for a couple of years, get a few successes under his belt, and hope for a more favorable political climate in which to present TPP to Congress for ratification. But that presumes he will be as popular as he is now, and that congressional members who vote to approve the pact will not face a voter backlash in the 2018 congressional mid-term election.
©2016 JAPAN TIMES (TOKYO) / DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.