President Donald Trump signed an executive order withdrawing the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Jan. 23.
The 12-nation trade agreement would have encompassed a region with nearly 40 percent of the world’s population and accounted for nearly 60 percent of global GDP. The deal, negotiated over the last seven years, was a keystone of the Obama administration’s trade policy.
Secrecy surrounding the negotiation of the deal, extra-judicial processes allowing corporations to sue governments, and the implications on labor rights, intellectual property, and environmental protection were all points of contention for critics of the deal.
During the end of Obama’s term, the bill was more or less dead in congress. Shortly after winning election, Trump vowed to withdraw from the agreement, closing the door on any hope that it would be revived during the next administration.
Joshua Eastin, assistant professor of Political Science at Portland State, weighed in on the implications of the withdrawal from the trade deal. He pointed out that it’s important to note the respective motives for bipartisan rejection of the deal.
“While many on the left criticized TPP for not pushing hard enough to demand better practices in environmental and labor standards and human rights,” Eastin explained, “the idea that the TPP would reduce jobs in the U.S. is what ultimately sank it in the Trump administration.”
“Great thing for the American worker, what we just did,” Trump said after signing the executive order withdrawing from the deal.
Supporters of the deal pointed out its importance against the increasingly expansionist policies of China. When the full text of the deal was released in 2015, Obama said, “If we don’t pass this agreement—if America doesn’t write those rules—then countries like China will.”
China, which was excluded from the deal, now seems poised to write the rules for trade in the region with its own multilateral trade deal, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
As Eastin pointed out, because of “China’s oft-stated reluctance to intervene in other nations’ domestic affairs, there is good reason to believe that a Chinese-led version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership would not include many, or any, of the labor and environmental standards protections that were present in the TPP.”
In addition, tensions have escalated as the U.S. and its allies try to maintain an economic and military presence. Eastin emphasized that some of the reasons for this are structural—push-back against expansion and conflict is inevitable—but that there are also ways that the new administration is exacerbating the situation.
“[The] current regime…has demonstrated a remarkable willingness to challenge the status quo on issues like Taiwan and the One-China policy,” Eastin said, “and has greatly amplified saber-rattling over China’s pursuit of territorial claims in the South China Sea.”
As globalization marches on, domestic and international economies are being increasingly and inextricably intertwined.
Trump has also promised to review the North American Free Trade Agreement and implied that if his desired revisions to NAFTA can not be achieved, the U.S. will withdraw from the agreement with its two largest trading partners.
Whether pulling out of TPP and embracing reform of other free trade agreements is the best path to protecting U.S. workers, however, is a point of contention.
“In my view,” Eastin explained, “a far better approach to ensuring U.S. worker protection would have been to sign the deal, but couple it with policies designed to provide resources to U.S. firms and workers that would have been harmed, policies such as education and job retraining, and an enhancement of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program.”
According to its website, the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program is “a federal program that provides a path for employment growth and opportunity through aid to U.S. workers who have lost their jobs as a result of foreign trade.”
Fulfilling promises to kill trade deals that are already dead is still a long way from delivering on promises like, “I will give you everything. I will give you what you’ve been looking for for 50 years,” as Trump declared in a campaign speech in May 2016.
Trump’s nomination of Labor Secretary Andy Pudzer, whose nomination process is being held up due to difficulties in meeting ethics requirements, has also been criticized by the left for his opposition to an increase in the minimum wage, as well as from the right for his advocacy of immigration reform that would offer legal status to undocumented workers.
As if humanitarian, ethical, and constitutional concerns weren’t enough reason to condemn building walls, banning immigration, and courting conflict abroad, the justification of these unprecedented actions as means to protect and enrich the average American also must be met with the utmost scrutiny.