In a week when people questioned the future of global trade, Pacific nations put the US behind them to sign the trade deal once known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Representatives from 11 nations with combined populations of almost half a billion people have signed on for the revamped Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) in Santiago, Chile, with the hosting foreign minister Heraldo Muroz describing it as a move “against protectionist pressures, in favour of a world open to trade”.
The US withdrew from the TPP last year, in one of Donald Trump’s first unilateral moves as president. He claimed that the deal would lead to a further exodus of manufacturing jobs. It was Trump’s opening shot in his war on free trade: he subsequently embarked on a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) and this week, he signed into law import tariffs for steel and aluminium.
Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, however, powered on without the US and are claiming a victory for globalisation. Other nations, including South Korea and China, could join the CPTPP in the coming years, with the door also open to a US return.
“Although the agreement is not as comprehensive as the original version, the new agreement represents a major statement that market-oriented economies are committed to multilateral agreements. As the US purports to reject multilateral trade agreements, other countries continue to value them and it is the most recent confirmation that globalisation is here to stay,” says Miguel Noyola, a partner in law firm Baker McKenzie in Chicago.
Under the current US administration, however, that seems far-fetched and trade watchers are declaring the US as the “biggest losers” of the CPTPP. “The loser is the US, they’ve lost the most from pulling out,” says Deborah Elms, executive director of the Asian Trade Centre, a pro-trade consultancy in Singapore.
The big winner, by common consensus, is Vietnam, which will gain preferential access to consumer markets in the likes of Australia, Canada and Japan for its apparel and footwear exports. Indeed, the Asian economies of Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam are all set for a 2% economic boost from the CPTPP, according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), which also found that US real income under the original TPP would have increased by US$131bn annually, or 0.5% of GDP.
For more developed markets such as Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand, the benefits are fewer. In Australia, for instance, there is consternation that they have lost the potential access to US agri and commodities markets that would have come with the original TPP. Furthermore, it already has free trade agreements with Japan and New Zealand, while Australia and New Zealand have an existing deal with Asean.
Canadian exporters, meanwhile, will have one eye on Nafta renegotiations, which could cost them access to the US, still the world’s largest economy.
“While exports to the United States should not change significantly, imports are projected to fall by C$3.3bn, with automotive products imports leading the decline. There is speculation that the anticipated fall in imports from the US will have an adverse effect on the current Nafta negotiations, strained as they already are,” George Karayannides, partner at Clyde & Co in Toronto, tells GTR.
He adds: “Key for Canada in the CPTPP is access to new free trade partners and in particular Japan, Australia, Vietnam and Malaysia. A February 16, 2018 government of Canada analysis concluded that the CPTPP could result in economic gains for Canada of approximately C$4.2bn, driven by increases in goods and services exports and investment.”
The agreement will now go to the member parliaments for ratification. It requires six ratifications before it enters force and after the TPP was scuppered after being signed, the CPTPP-11 are under pressure to ensure that this version gets over the line.
Only once it has been ratified will there be discussions about expanding the deal, with various Asian countries likely to be among the first to join.