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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Editorials

In Our View: Leaders can learn from failed trade agreement

The Columbian
Published: July 26, 2023, 6:03am

A summit in Seattle this week puts a spotlight on a U.S. policy failure of the past decade.

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, beginning Saturday, brings together senior economic officials from Pacific Rim nations to discuss trade and economic plans. Amid the forging of relationships and the seeking of mutually beneficial policies, there should be discussion about the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The proposed trade agreement has been long dead, but it can provide the framework for future deals that benefit American workers and consumers, address climate change and provide a bulwark against China’s increasing economic power.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, negotiated throughout the Obama presidency, was a trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. It excluded China and was designed to be both a carrot and a stick in addressing Chinese trade practices.

But by the time President Barack Obama left office, neither political party supported the agreement. Hillary Clinton opposed it in 2016, as did some Democratic lawmakers.

As for Donald Trump’s feelings on the TPP? Columnist Thomas Friedman of the New York Times explains that Trump “promptly tore it up rather than learn what it was about . . . Trump was so ignorant about the contents of the TPP before he tore it up — his main objection was surely that Obama had negotiated it — that when he was first asked about it in a campaign debate in November 2015, Trump incorrectly suggested that China was in it from the start.”

Trump instead pursued misguided tariffs against Chinese imports to the United States as the centerpiece of his trade policy. That did little other than lead to counter-tariffs by China and create a trade war that has been costly for Americans.

Meanwhile, the United States and allies have developed no effective incentive for the reduction of Chinese carbon emissions.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership included provisions for tariff cuts, enhanced market access and intellectual property protection. It also would have allowed workers to form unions, prohibited child labor and strengthened environmental protections. It included nations comprising 40 percent of the global economy.

Since its demise, other Pacific Rim nations have developed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. China, meanwhile, has joined nations such as Australia, South Korea and Vietnam in forging the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the world’s most expansive trade agreement.

The demise of the Trans-Pacific Partnership has been particularly costly to Washington, which is regarded as the nation’s most trade-dependent state. The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture estimated that the agreement would have added 1,350 agriculture jobs in our state.

Lessons from the TPP continue to linger. One is the importance of international relationships and free trade. A growing wave of protectionism in both political parties has damaged U.S. interests and failed to stem China’s influence.

Another lesson is the damage left behind by the Trump presidency. Trump could have learned about the Trans-Pacific Partnership and then weighed public and congressional sentiment. But that would require thoughtful work, which he is loath to do.

As economic leaders meet in Seattle, the specter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership is present. Those leaders should recognize the importance of international cooperation to counter China’s growing influence and questionable trade practices.