Rest of the world moves on with trade


“Amer­ica First does not mean Amer­ica alone,” Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials have said in re­sponse to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s poli­cies. But it sure seems that way re­gard­ing global trade, and that pos­ture will have a neg­a­tive eco­nomic and geopo­lit­i­cal im­pact on the United States.

That much was ap­par­ent dur­ing Trump’s trip to Asia, where the pres­i­dent pro­nounced sup­port for bi­lat­eral trade deals but dis­missed mul­ti­lat­eral trade pacts such as the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship, which was to bind 12 Pa­cific na­tions in a mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial trad­ing pro­to­col. Trump, act­ing on his dem­a­gogic de­nun­ci­a­tion of the TPP, the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment (NAFTA) and other deals ne­go­ti­ated by Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic pres­i­dents alike, pulled out of TPP ne­go­ti­a­tions. Last week, the re­main­ing 11 TPP na­tions de­cided to forge ahead with­out the United States.

More than nine of 10 global con­sumers live out­side the U.S., and Amer­ica’s man­u­fac­tur­ing, agri­cul­tural and ser­vice sec­tors — let alone its own con­sumers — ben­e­fit from lower tar­iffs and global trad­ing pro­to­cols re­flect­ing and of­ten set by U.S. stan­dards. By­pass­ing these deals side­lines the U.S. in the world’s most dy­namic re­gion.

“Our al­lies and trad­ing part­ners in the re­gion with whom we worked on TPP very much value the high stan­dards that we all de­signed to­gether and want to see those put in place with or with­out the United States,” Michael Fro­man, U.S. trade rep­re­sen­ta­tive dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, told an edi­to­rial writer.

“From a geostrate­gic ra­tio­nale in terms of so­lid­i­fy­ing U.S. lead­er­ship in the re­gion, it’s very much been un­der­mined by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion to with­draw,” added Fro­man, now a dis­tin­guished fel­low at the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions.

That’s true in part be­cause China has moved so ag­gres­sively to fill the trade void with the Re­gional Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship — its own even larger trade pact that would bind 16 na­tions to­tal­ing nearly 40 per­cent of global GDP.

China also has moved to fill the su­per­power void that’s be­ing cre­ated by the Amer­i­can re­treat not just on trade but on other es­sen­tial is­sues such as cli­mate change, non­pro­lif­er­a­tion ef­forts and the Iran nu­clear deal.

Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy needs mul­ti­lat­eral ap­proaches to the North Korean cri­sis as well as to other na­tion-state and transna­tional chal­lenges. But it’s much harder to rally na­tional lead­ers — and es­pe­cially their cit­i­zens — if Amer­ica re­jects trade part­ner­ships.

It’s es­pe­cially per­ilous that the NAFTA rene­go­ti­a­tions are re­port­edly not go­ing well. Abro­gat­ing that long-stand­ing pact would jolt global sup­ply chains and even the global econ­omy, as well as fur­ther strain­ing re­la­tions with our North Amer­i­can neigh­bors.

Dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign, free-trade agree­ments were ir­re­spon­si­bly cast as coun­ter­pro­duc­tive to U.S. in­ter­ests when the op­po­site is true. Now is the time for ad­vo­cates to speak up on a bi­par­ti­san ba­sis for low­er­ing trade bar­ri­ers and rais­ing stan­dards world­wide, as well as more closely align­ing with na­tions the U.S. must de­pend on to help re­store order in an in­creas­ingly chaotic world. That would truly be Amer­ica First.

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