Abe’s last plea for TPP

Edward Wrong November 18, 2016 3:03 AM (UTC+8)
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On his way to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Peru, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is making at pit-stop at Trump Tower where he will plead with President-elect Donald Trump to reconsider his campaign pledge to kill the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Abe will no doubt point out that the Diet, Japan’s lower house, approved the trade agreement last week, in a moment of symbolic optimism the day after the US election.

He will tell Trump that if TPP is truly dead, Japan has no choice but to move ahead with the Chinese-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, which excludes the United States. He will try to explain that TPP would allow the US to bind Asian economies to US labor standards, and strike a blow against China’s ever expanding regional interests.

But it seems unlikely that the man who ran his campaign on a largely isolationist, anti-globalization platform will be swayed by these arguments. During his first 100 days in office, Trump will want to show his supporters that he is keeping his pre-election promises – regardless of the geopolitical and economic outcomes. The white, rural working-class voters who swept him into office will turn on him should he immediately backtrack on such a key tenet of the campaign.

From a political standpoint, he has therefore backed himself into a corner on this issue, at least for the time-being. It is also worth keeping in mind that Japan has been a target of Trump’s ire for decades, since he railed against the country’s unfair trade practices during the disputes of the 1980s. That argument is largely the same as the one he has used in 2016, and the President-elect has shown himself to be disinclined when it comes to reversing his positions, whatever the evidence (see birtherism and the Central Park Five).

The best hope for Abe and other TPP proponents is patience. If they are able to wait out the initial phase of the Trump administration, they may find the President-elect to be more flexible once he is acclimated to the realities of his office, and his staff are more settled in their roles. Giving Trump time to claim that he has negotiated a better deal for the United States would allow him to save face personally, and with his supporters.

Whether Japan and the other TPP nations would be willing to wait for such an eventuality remains unclear. After years of hard work they may be loath to let the agreement die so easily.

On the other hand, time may not be a luxury they can afford. RCEP will likely dominate the conversation this weekend at APEC, and nations will not want to be left out if they believe TPP has been relegated to a pipe-dream.

Edward Wrong
Edward Wrong is a geopolitical analyst who has held positions at NATO, the OSCE, and the EU Delegation to the United States. He is a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and a contributing analyst to Global Risk Insights and Wikistrat.
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