Biden not likely to be on board for trans-Pacific trade deal
Sunday, November 15, 2020
Now that US President Donald Trump’s opponent Joe Biden has been declared president-elect, the region is watching to see how U.S. policy on trade and other issues will evolve.
Analysts are skeptical Biden will push hard to rejoin the trans-Pacific trade pact or to roll back many of the U.S. trade sanctions imposed on China by the Trump administration given widespread frustration with Beijing’s trade and human rights records and accusations of spying and technology theft.
Critics of free trade agreements say they tend to encourage companies to move manufacturing jobs overseas. So, having won over disaffected rust-belt voters in Michigan and western Pennsylvania in the election, Biden is “not going to squander that by going back into TPP,” Michael Jonathan Green of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said in a web seminar.
But given concerns over China’s growing influence, Biden is likely to seek much more engagement with Southeast Asia to protect U.S. interests, he said.
The fast-growing and increasingly affluent Southeast Asian market of 650 million people has been hit hard by the pandemic and is urgently seeking fresh drivers for growth.
Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership originally would have included about 3.6 billion people and encompassed about a third of world trade and global GDP. Minus India, it still covers more than 2 billion people and close to a third of all trade and business activity.
The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, the retooled version of the North American Free Trade Agreement under Trump, covers slightly less economic activity but less than a tenth of the world’s population. The EU and Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership, the revised version of the deal Trump rejected, also are smaller. RCEP includes six of the 11 remaining CPTPP members.
India balked at exposing its farmers and factories to more foreign competition. Among other concerns, Indian dairy farmers are worried about competition from New Zealand and Australian milk and cheese producers. Automakers fear imports from across the region. But overall the biggest fear is over a flood of manufactured goods from China.
Trade and investment flows within Asia have vastly expanded over the past decade, a trend that has accelerated amid feuding between the U.S. and China, which have imposed billions of dollars’ worth of punitive tariffs on each other’s exports.
The RCEP agreement is loose enough to stretch to fit the disparate needs of member countries as diverse as Myanmar, Singapore, Vietnam and Australia. Unlike the CPTPP and EU, it does not establish unified standards on labor and the environment or commit countries to open services and other vulnerable areas of their economies.
But it does set rules for trade that will facilitate investment and other business within the region, Jeffrey Wilson, research director at the Perth USAsia Center, said in a report for the Asia Society.
“RCEP, therefore, is a much-needed platform for the Indo-Pacific’s post-coronavirus recovery,” he wrote.
ASEAN members include Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam.-AP