President Obama is meeting with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries in California Monday—another concrete step in his pivot to Asia.
The meeting comes on the heels of the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a historic trade agreement unprecedented in scope and geographic coverage. But those are not the only noteworthy aspects of the agreement. Trade agreements, after all, are about more than tariff reductions and market access—they provide a foundation for improving relationships between countries. And TPP in particular not only sets a new standard for global trade, but also for relationships between nations.
While we are still celebrating the official signing of the TPP, the work is not complete. The 12 TPP member countries will now determine how to implement the obligations in the agreement, a process that will require extensive communication and coordination between the partners and commitment to ensure they employ a transparent process.
Not all of the TPP countries—which includes Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the United States—have experience in implementing policies in an open and transparent way, so this presents a challenge.
The countries will have to work together to ensure obligations are operationalized in a manner that allows for market access and open competition. The U.S. already has bilateral trade agreements with Singapore, Australia, Peru, Chile, Canada and Mexico, with relatively strong relationships and stable trade.
Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, New Zealand and Brunei have not previously implemented a bilateral trade deal with the U.S. and will have to figure out how to do so. But this collaboration is critical to establishing the type of close relationship that can deepen their partnership with the U.S.
The private sector will have an important role to play in bringing the TPP countries closer together. After all, iconic American brand names and logos are as identifiable with the U.S. as its flag.
American brands are already popular, and the TPP will increase consumer demand for fashion leaders like Levi’s and Nike, as well as for Apple, Caterpillar and Citibank. Those of us from the business community who participated in the negotiations found that we have much in common with our colleagues in the other TPP countries. There are already new connections and the potential for new business opportunities, so at many levels, we have an opportunity to strengthen the bonds between our countries, the private sector and society.
The geopolitical implications of TPP go far beyond previous agreements because it sets a new standard for economic collaboration between countries that account for 40 percent of global GDP—and the future of global trade. TPP brings together countries from South America to Southeast Asia, countries that likely would have never engaged in trade negotiations outside of the leadership of the U.S.
Protections for labor, environment and intellectual property, along with discussions to bring about regulatory coherence are uniquely American values in trade agreements. Other countries work to keep trade separate from other disciplines, but the United States employs a broader and more inclusive approach. As China, India and other large economies push for deeper trade integration in Asia, they will face the disciplines in TPP and will be forced to consider a new way of engaging in trade negotiations.
The impact of TPP disciplines on countries that are not part of the agreement and how those disciplines may influence economic behavior will be interesting to watch.
Although we have a long way to go before TPP is operational, the signing ceremony sent a message to the world: the United States will continue to be at the forefront of trade discussions and has the clout to conclude wide-ranging and comprehensive agreements.
The U.S. and its TPP partners are counting on each other when it comes to weathering the uncertainties of the global economy and finding new and innovative ways to provide economic opportunities for their people. TPP is more than a trade agreement. It underscores the important role that relationships between governments and people play in making the global economy function.
It is easy to criticize TPP and many have done so quite vociferously. But the one question no one has asked is: Would any other country have put in the time and resources, spanning two administrations, Republican and Democrat, to pursue such an ambitious and far reaching agreement? The answer to that question is a resounding: No.
The TPP partners will be much closer, more aligned economically, strategically and diplomatically because of this agreement. And no matter what you may like or dislike about the details of the agreement’s text, we can all agree this partnership is a win.
By Mara M. Burr, Julia K. Hughes
Mara M. Burr is the executive vice president for World Strategies and former Deputy Assistant USTR for South and Central Asia.
Julia K. Hughes is president of the United States Fashion Industry Association.