Clin­ton or Trump, TPP green­light un­likely


IN less than two weeks one of the world’s most highly an­tic­i­pated qua­dren­nial events will take place on Novem­ber 8. The out­come of the 2016 US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion will not only shape the im­me­di­ate fu­ture of the US but will also have im­pli­ca­tions for in­ter­na­tional af­fairs.

The US, the world’s only su­per­power, has played a lead­ing role in tack­ling in­ter­na­tional is­sues such as cli­mate change, ter­ror­ism, ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes in the East and South China seas, and, of course, the be­he­moth 12-na­tion Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship (TPP) trade deal.

The pres­i­den­tial elec­tion is being con­tested by Demo­cratic nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton, a vet­eran politi­cian, and the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee Don­ald Trump, a busi­ness­man turned politi­cian. Look­ing at the cur­rent na­tional polls in which Clin­ton has a con­sid­er­able lead in both the pop­u­lar vote and elec­toral col­lege pro­jec­tions, it is hard to see any­thing but a size­able Clin­ton vic­tory.

Nonethe­less, US cit­i­zens on Novem­ber 8 will not only elect the next pres­i­dent of the most pow­er­ful na­tion in the world, but also their Congress mem­bers, state gov­er­nors, state leg­is­la­tors, city may­ors and other pub­lic of­fi­cers. Th­ese play­ers all have dif­fer­ent but im­por­tant roles in the realm of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics.

With re­gards to the Con­gres­sional elec­tions, all 435 mem­bers of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and 34 sen­a­tors of the 100-mem­ber Se­nate will be up for re-elec­tion this year. Most polls cur­rently sug­gest that the House should re­main Repub­li­can­dom­i­nated, al­beit their ma­jor­ity should be re­duced; while in a tight race, the Se­nate could flip and be­come Demo­crat-ma­jor­ity.

Nei­ther party, how­ever, will se­cure a su­per-ma­jor­ity of 60 seats to over­come the no­to­ri­ous fil­i­buster in the Se­nate. This means that it is al­most cer­tain that the leg­isla­tive branch will re­main vir­tu­ally dys­func­tional just like it has been for many years.

This has im­por­tant ram­i­fi­ca­tions given the coun­try’s fa­mous bal­anceof-power sys­tem of gov­ern­ment. The pres­i­dent alone will not achieve as much as he or she as­pires to with­out a co­op­er­a­tive Congress.

A dys­func­tional Congress means that the pass­ing or rat­i­fi­ca­tion of ma- jor laws or trade agree­ments, in­clud­ing the TPP, will be chal­leng­ing. The pres­i­dency of Barack Obama is the case in point where the am­bi­tious leader has been in­vari­ably frus­trated by a chron­i­cally un­co­op­er­a­tive Congress.

Specif­i­cally on the TPP, the chances of it being rat­i­fied by the Congress within its man­dated two-year win­dow pe­riod, which ends next year, look very slim.

The TPP can be rat­i­fied in two dif­fer­ent pe­ri­ods: fol­low­ing the elec­tion on Novem­ber 8 but be­fore the new pres­i­dent takes of­fice on Jan­uary 20, the so-called “lame-duck pe­riod”; and the pe­riod after the new pres­i­dent takes of­fice. The chances of rat­i­fy­ing the TPP dur­ing the lame-duck pe­riod are slim but still pos­si­ble given that Barack Obama would still be pres­i­dent.

Nev­er­the­less, it is un­likely be­cause both the House leader, Paul Ryan, and the Se­nate leader, Mitch McCon­nell, have said they will not in­tro­duce the bill into their re­spec­tive cham­bers be­fore the new ad­min­is­tra­tion takes over as it does not seem to have enough votes to pass.

Al­though many Congress mem­bers have shown their sup­port for this trade deal, it re­mains strongly op­posed by many oth­ers on both sides of the aisle, es­pe­cially as anti-trade sen­ti­ment re­mains strong as a re­sult of this elec­tion cy­cle.

The chance of the TPP being rat­i­fied in the se­cond pe­riod is even slim­mer. First, both Clin­ton and Trump have come out against the deal. Se­condly, the com­po­si­tion of the new Congress will al­most cer­tainly com­prise more Democrats who in gen­eral op­pose the TPP. This fur­ther damp­ens the TPP’s prospects.

There­fore, after con­sid­er­ing the afore­men­tioned pos­si­bil­i­ties, the TPP is very un­likely to be rat­i­fied re­gard­less of the elec­tion out­come. With Clin­ton’s his­tory of sup­port of the free trade agenda, it is pos­si­ble that she may at­tempt to rene­go­ti­ate the TPP or pur­sue an en­tirely new trade deal if elected pres­i­dent.

A Pres­i­dent Trump, on the other hand, is likely to en­gage in pro­tec­tion­ist poli­cies and dis­en­gage from in­ter­na­tional af­fairs. This could mean the end of mul­ti­lat­eral trade deals in­volv­ing the US for some time.

The likely prospect of the TPP not being rat­i­fied is prob­a­bly ben­e­fi­cial to Thai­land re­gard­less of who wins the pres­i­dency.

For a Clin­ton pres­i­dency, it would give us a chance to get back to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble again. Clin­ton has al­ways been a strong sup­porter of free trade in gen­eral, even though she has come out against the TPP.

With a Trump pres­i­dency, it would give us peace of mind that ASEAN na­tions like Brunei, Viet­nam, Sin­ga­pore and Malaysia, who are par­ties to the TPP, will have to start from square one.

We may then all have to start turn­ing to China for lead­er­ship for new mul­ti­lat­eral trade agree­ments.

Natchapol Praditpetchara and Kantaphon Amornrat are re­searchers at the Bangkok-based Thai­land De­vel­op­ment Re­search In­sti­tute.

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