There is a pressing need to stem a surging tide of protectionism in the United States, a nation that has long served as the standard-bearer of free trade.
Both the Republican and Democratic presidential nominees for the November general election oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact.
Republican nominee Donald Trump has vowed to withdraw from the accord. He has cited such reasons for his objection as the need to protect jobs in the U.S. automobile industry, saying the trade deal would be a “disaster for the auto industry.”
It is very worrying that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton also clearly voiced her opposition to the TPP pact in mid-August, despite having promoted the accord during her years in office as secretary of state. “I oppose it now, I’ll oppose it after the election and I’ll oppose it as president,” she said. As circumstances stand, TPP ratification could be at risk.
In the United States, there is growing antipathy among low-income white Americans and other groups toward economic globalization, reflecting the eclipsing of middle-income groups due to the hollowing-out of the manufacturing sector.
If both nominees escalate their protectionist assertions as part of their electoral tactics aimed at pandering to the masses, it could leave the root of a calamity untouched for the future.
Signed by 12 countries including Japan and the United States in February, the TPP accord would go into force after it is ratified by at least six countries that together account for 85 percent or more of the signatories’ combined gross domestic product — a minimum requirement for the enforcement of the pact.
The United States accounts for 62 percent of the signatories’ GDP, with that of Japan amounting to 16 percent of the total. Given this, ratification by both nations will be indispensable.
Japan’s ratification a must
Amid objections to the treaty by both nominees, President Barack Obama hopes to complete ratification procedures during his administration. Doing so will require him after the election to obtain TPP ratification during a lame-duck session of Congress convened toward the end of the year, preceding the inauguration of the new administration. This will entail an extremely tight schedule for congressional debates on the accord.
Furthermore, the TPP pact lacks wide support from members of the U.S. Congress, partly because the pharmaceutical industry, which has strong political clout, opposes the deal over the period of time set for the exclusive right to sell pharmaceutical products.
“As long as we don’t have the votes … the president has to renegotiate some critical components of it,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said recently, whose Republican Party holds the majority in both chambers of Congress.
A precedent was the free trade agreement the United States signed with South Korea in 2007. Washington renegotiated the deal with Seoul citing opposition from Congress. Five years later, the FTA took effect.
However, the TPP agreement, which has resulted from complicated negotiations among 12 nations, has been likened to a piece of glassware. If the trade accord begins to crumble, it could eventually fall apart. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had every reason to emphasize that his government “will never accept any renegotiation, whatever happens.”
The United States needs to see the whole issue from a broad perspective so it will promote the economic development of the TPP bloc and use it as a tool for its own economic growth.
Japan must secure TPP ratification at an extraordinary Diet session to be convened in autumn to send the United States a strong message, urging the country to make it possible for the trade pact to take effect at an early date.