As major world leaders have congregated in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal
“The TPP will be epoch-making for Japan and for countries in the Asia-Pacific in two ways,” Abe said as he addressed an investment seminar hosted by the Japan External Trade Organisation and the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry at the Pierre Hotel on Monday.
“First, the TPP will be a platform for expanding a free trade and fair economic space in the Asia Pacific,” he said. “Second, the TPP is a pillar for the US strategy of ‘rebalancing toward Asia.’ Through the TPP, the US can make clear its commitment to playing a leadership role in the growing Asia-Pacific.”
And as the deal faces significant hurdles made all the more difficult by a US election season in which both candidates have opposed its ratification, Abe stressed the importance of imminent passage.
“Japan and the US must each obtain domestic approval of the TPP as soon as possible for its early entry into force. Success or failure will sway the direction of the global free trade system, and the strategic environment in the Asia-Pacific,” he said, expressing similar sentiments again at an event hosted by Reuters on Wednesday.
Although the bulk of the discussion regarding the TPP stateside has centered around the growing populist movement and the rising backlash against trade, there’s also a key geopolitical angle in light of the world’s increasing multi-polarity.
As China has continued to grow economically on the global stage and militarily in Asia over the last few years, the Obama administration has worked to both strengthen the US’ relationship with China and other Asian states and to increase the its military presence in the region. According to the the Wall Street Journal’s Carol E. Lee, the share of US troops in the region is up to 10% in 2015 from 8% in 2008, with the number of US troops increasing significantly around Japan.
And the TPP deal, which would lower tariffs for 12 countries around the Pacific — excluding China, could be interpreted as another arm of that agenda.
“The whole TPP agreement really isn’t about workers, who are taking it on the chin whether it gets concluded or not,” Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer previously told Business Insider’s Pamela Engel. “It’s about America’s position in Asia.”
“A lot depends on TPP,” he added. “If it doesn’t get done, China will become the fall-back leader for Asian economic architecture. And US relations with many countries in the region will slip.”
Notably, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump say they oppose the TPP deal, zeroing in on American workers’ anxieties as they vie for the top job in the White House. (Although, for what it’s worth, Clinton once called it the “gold standard” of trade agreements.)
Meanwhile, the Obama administration has been pushing for the deal, with Obama trying to get it through Congress during the lame-duck period before he leaves office.
“Secretary Kerry … likes to say that foreign policy is economic policy, and in saying that he’s referring to that interplay between foreign policy, foreign affairs, economic issues, and it’s certainly true with bilateral diplomatic relations, as well,” Dr. Ziad Haider, Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs at the US Department of State, said at the investment seminar at the Pierre Hotel.
He added: “The strength of a security relationship needs to be matched by the strength of the economic relationship.”