In this election year in the United States, one of the few positions that the two major party candidates share is that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) should be opposed. They are wrong. Rejecting the TPP, a trade agreement between the United States and 11 other nations on both sides of the globe’s largest body of water, is both a bad policy and a dismissal of U.S. global leadership.
The TPP will usher in a new era in U.S. economic leadership in the Asia-Pacific. The Asia-Pacific region has the greatest potential for growth in the global economy. It is home to 40% of the world’s population, produces nearly 60% of global GDP, and contains some of its fastest growing economies. Closer economic connections to this region will give U.S. companies unprecedented access to global markets. U.S. farmers, entrepreneurs, and innovators will gain entry into the important region with lower tariffs, allowing fair competition. To see these economic benefits, Congress must ratify the TPP as soon as possible.
The agreement will yield strategic gains and counter the dangers of China’s continued growth by increasing U.S. involvement in the region. China is indeed growing, but it is not invincible. Earlier this year, China lost a legal battle at The Hague over its claims in the South China Sea. It responded by pressing its dominance over neighboring states, denouncing the ruling as illegitimate, and stating that it will move to establish an air defense zone over the South China Sea. China has already moved to integrate itself economically with other countries in the region. If Congress does not pass the TPP, Chinese, rather than U.S., values will shape the Asia-Pacific for future generations.
Replacing Chinese influence with U.S. guidance will assuage the concerns of U.S. allies in the Asia-Pacific. Regional leaders are increasingly concerned with China’s economic and military strength, which they fear may be used to dominate the region. China is seeking to become the preeminent power in the region by intimidating its rivals and marginalizing any local opposition. Vietnam’s close economic ties with the United States are in danger of being usurped by China, and Japan’s sovereignty is threatened by China’s growing ambitions. China disputed Japan’s ownership of the Senkaku Islands and declared an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) beyond its own maritime territory. U.S. strategy prioritizes inclusion while China’s strives for dominance, presenting the United States with a vital opportunity. While China continues to lash out at its neighbors in an effort to become the dominant regional power, the United States can reach out a generous hand to guide the region to a safer, stronger, and more prosperous future.
The TPP will provide the United States with three main benefits:
• It will strengthen the U.S. economy. The United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Vietnam, Chile, Brunei, Singapore, and New Zealand are the 12 members of the TPP. They represent almost 40% of the global economy. The TPP will give U.S. businesses remarkable access to new and growing Pacific rim markets and will reduce regulation and red tape that is currently restricting U.S. businesses from selling their goods overseas.
• It will demonstrate U.S. leadership. By signing the TPP, the United States shows long-term investment in the Asia-Pacific region. The Asia-Pacific members know that U.S. values help create a better future, so they prefer an active and engaged United States for guidance.
• It will create a safer future. Nations that trade together remain allies. Increased trade flow between these 12 countries lessens the likelihood of future conflicts between the countries. The TPP will lay the groundwork for future economic integration in the Asia-Pacific. Countries like Japan, the Philippines, and Indonesia have expressed interest in joining the TPP. With the successful passage of the TPP, the United States will be equipped with the economic and political leverage to advance its values and ideas in an increasingly crucial area of the world. When the United States plays an active role in a region, it brings the strength of the world’s largest economy and the security of the strongest military in the world.
Opponents claim the TPP will hurt hard-working Americans in the long term, but this is incorrect. The TPP will create jobs, empower businesses, and benefit consumers worldwide. The agreement eliminates taxes on 18,000 U.S. goods, making U.S. products more attractive to the burgeoning populations and growing purchasing power in TPP countries. There will be fewer barriers and more opportunities for both small and large U.S. businesses to sell their products and services overseas.
The United States lost 3.2 million manufacturing jobs from 2001 to 2014. The majority of these jobs were lost to China, who is not a member of any recently signed large trade agreements with the U.S. In a globalized economy, some job loss is inevitable, but free trade generally displaces an “exceedingly small” number of jobs. Furthermore, the jobs that are lost tend to be replaced by better, higher paying jobs.
The United States certainly needs to improve assistance for workers who lose jobs because of changes in the global economy rather than seeking to isolate itself from the global trends expedited by modern interconnectedness. The United States cannot stop global changes from occurring. Maintaining manufacturing jobs is unsustainable in the modern world of automation, but the United States can implement policies to better help workers adjust to changing realities. Displaced workers deserve increased government investment in education and assistance with job training so they can experience the benefits of working higher-quality, modern jobs created by trade. The purpose of trade agreements is to open new markets and develop new opportunities for U.S. workers. Previous trade agreements created more high-quality jobs that came from increases in export-related sectors, which are supported by free trade agreements like TPP. The United States enjoys a $55 billion trade surplus with its trade agreement partners and endures a $579 billion trade deficit with countries without trade agreements. Trade agreement partners benefit the U.S. economy and prepare U.S. workers for coming global trends.
The TPP is an economy-enhancing solution to U.S. strategic challenges in the Asia-Pacific. The agreement will allow U.S. ideals and values to guide the Asia-Pacific region, rather than China’s policies of domination and intimidation, and will secure U.S. leadership in the world’s fastest growing region. It will strengthen the U.S. economy while demonstrating how U.S. leadership can create a safer world for the United States and its partners for generations. U.S. lawmakers should not surrender to protectionist arguments that threaten the U.S. economy and its continued role as a global leader. The next Congress should make it a priority to ratify the TPP during its first session.
Tyler Sauer is a first-year graduate student at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. He is in the Security Policy Studies program studying U.S. National Security Policy and Transnational Security Issues.