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Opinion

Op-Ed: Finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership while the political window is still open

Lee Hsien Loong and Barack Obama
President Barack Obama listens as Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks during their joint news conference at the White House on Aug. 2. The Trans-Pacific Partnership was high on the agenda during the Prime Minister’s visit to Washington.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump can’t agree on the weather most days. The only issue they seem to see eye-to-eye on is the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Both candidates are on the record staunchly opposing this comprehensive trade pact among the United States and 11 other nations.

President Obama and Congress must ratify the agreement before the end of the current administration. Otherwise the window of opportunity might be closed.

This comes at a delicate point in our political process, and yet the need to finalize TPP comes at an even more delicate time for the world, specifically Asia. The fate of the proposed agreement could alter the balance of power in the region.

China, Asia’s leading power, has stumbled in recent months, losing a bitter legal dispute about its claims in the South China Sea at The Hague while also suffering domestically from an economic slowdown. In response, Beijing is ever more determined to assert its presence across the region — both economically and militarily.

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Our failure to act [on TPP] won’t be overlooked... Expect China to pick up the slack and the movement away from the dollar in Asia to accelerate.

The longtime U.S.-led international order often gets taken for granted. However, our failure to act at a pivotal moment such as this one won’t be overlooked in Asia. According to the Congressional Research Service, U.S. failure to finalize the trade deal that we have signed would signal to our allies and trading partners in Asia that our interest in their economic and strategic well-being is waning. Expect China to pick up the slack and the movement away from the dollar in Asia to accelerate.

TPP offers the United States the opportunity to continue to write the rules on international trade and security for years to come. Whether we like it or not, international economic integration and globalization will continue in Asia with or without us. Even as waves of misinformation and xenophobia have pushed the European Union and Britain to retreat from globalization, Asia looks to be moving in the opposite direction.

TPP is the product of years of negotiations and hundreds of smaller agreements among 12 different countries. Abandoning this remarkable diplomatic achievement will devastate America’s ability to negotiate future multilateral and bilateral trade agreements, undermining our soft power capabilities and our appeal as the world’s most important economy. It took a decade of effort to reach this agreement; if we walk away from it, the next decade will most likely be shaped by trade deals that don’t involve the United States.

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Recently, China met with 15 other nations to hammer out its own trade deal, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, before the end of this year. U.S. credibility in Asia will take a terrible hit if that gets finalized this year while we break our president’s word and continue to dither on TPP. More important, missing this opportunity to approve TPP would mean giving up our ability to influence the very issues that concern the deal’s critics: increased standards for the global workforce, protection of the environment, free and open Internet, fair competition, and respect for intellectual property rights.

Not passing TPP would mean the United States misses out on immediate, tangible economic benefits. For instance, TPP would eliminate 18,000 taxes on exported American goods, including many barriers disguised as regulations, in some of the largest and fastest-growing economies. These changes would grant American enterprises the opportunity to expand their businesses in the United States and abroad, ultimately leading to more American jobs and growth that would otherwise be lost.

American companies — big and small — exported more than $622 billion in goods to TPP-member countries in 2013 despite the existing barriers. Estimates are that post-TPP approval, member countries would see an average 1.1% rise in GDP and an 11% increase in  trade by 2030. Those enticing economic figures come coupled with unprecedented provisions protecting human rights, the environment and intellectual property. The positive relationships that TPP establishes among partner nations, while intangible, may be just as important.

Even China has shown cautious approval of the deal’s benefits, signaling interest in potentially joining the trade agreement at a later date. While the United States should look to remain in the driver’s seat, China’s involvement in TPP could be a remarkable step forward for international prosperity and stability. But to make such a future a reality, the United States must first back away from its domestic political carnival and approve TPP.

Jim McCrery served as a U.S. representative from Louisiana for nearly 21 years. He was the ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee from 2007 to 2008.

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