It would take a tome that would put
War and Peace to shame to deal with all the strands to this issue. Some we will get to in other entries. Three we will touch on now: i) the Trump agenda, ii) TPP and the other eleven, and iii) TPP and the United States.
The Trump Agenda. For us, the key to understanding that agenda is not the action item on TPP noted above but this from Mr. Trump's December 1 Thank-you Rally in Cincinnati:
"Our goal is to strengthen the bonds of trust between citizens, to restore our sense of membership in a shared national community. Global is wonderful, but right now we want to focus on our national community."
Is there a strain of economic nationalism there? Of course. Is it tantamount to isolationism and a rejection of trade? We don't think so.
Our guess is that the readers of these pages are, most of them, frequent flyers and are more than familiar with the protocols of air travel. We're thinking of that part of the before-take-off crew instructions where the flight attendant tells you about those oxygen masks that will drop down if you need them and says, "Be sure to put on your own mask before assisting others." The thought is clear enough. The parent or good Samaritan must look to his own strength first if he wishes to be effective in aiding others, and it has some relevance here.
One can argue about whether America needs any shoring up, any special in-ward focused attention. Assuming it does, however, that shoring up is more likely to come from areas outside of trade, such as tax and regulatory policy. If that is the case and if the Trump Administration is successful on those fronts, then the world may see more flexibility on trade.
TPP and the Other 11. Japan has ratified TPP and, as we mentioned, three others are clearly moving in that direction, namely, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore. We are not sure about the remaining seven. It might not be possible to get all of them to go along with a TPP that did not include the United States, especially since, in effect, there would have to be a new agreement, one that could be implemented without the United States.
In an earlier entry, we highlighted with approval
Claude Barfield's call for a rump TPP. There is merit in such a project, and it should include as many of the original 12 as possible. But, as The Wall Street Journal pointed out in a recent editorial, it won't be easy:
"It's ... not impossible for the other 11 signatories of the TPP to revise the treaty to leave out the U.S. That would take some fancy diplomatic footwork to avoid reopening the terms of the treaty. But if it worked, it would preserve the progress to date and leave the door open to the U.S. to join later."
The U.S. and TPP. Even in the simplest commercial terms, opting out of TPP will not be a cost-free exercise, especially for American farmers. To cite just one example, the Japan Australia Economic Partnership Agreement went into effect in January 2015, and Australia's beef and wine producers are already seeing the benefits. We haven't looked at the numbers, but it is a fair guess that America's producers of those same products are now facing stiffer competition in Japan's rich market. That situation is only likely to get worse as more agreements come on stream.
There is some irony here. TPP has been praised most loudly as a landmark agreement because of its behind-the-border provisions, such as the disciplines on state-owned enterprises. In the first instance, however, its absence will be felt most acutely by those Americans whose access to foreign markets will now be second-rate at best.
By definition, President Trump's first day in office will be only the beginning. Our guess - and of course it is only that - is that down the road joining TPP may seem a better option than it does now. Even so, it may require a change or two so that the Trump Administration can put its own stamp on it. But what? We wonder: Are there elements that could be modified without doing injury to the interests of the other 11, while improving the agreement from the standpoint of a new, Republican administration? We don't know, but it's worth thinking about.