Fran O'Sullivan: TPP hot topic on US political agenda

Trump has turned international trade into a political minefield. Illustration / Rod Emmerson
Trump has turned international trade into a political minefield. Illustration / Rod Emmerson

When Hillary Clinton came to town in 2010 the then Secretary of State said "we are very committed to the Trans Pacific Partnership we want to expedite the negotiations as much as possible.

"I am absolutely convinced that opening up markets in Asia amongst all of us and doing so in a way that creates win-win situations so that people feel that trade is in their interests."

There was plenty more at the press conference in the Beehive theaterette: "So we are very committed to TPP. As with any trade deal, it's day-by-day negotiating over all kinds of issues to the satisfaction of the parties.

"And this is a complex negotiation. We're not ruling out, we're not ruling in any bilateral agreements with anybody else in the region, including New Zealand.

"But our priority is to really focus on the TTP and see how fast we can move that towards completion, and I think that's very much in both New Zealand's and the United States's interests."

Two years later she was still spruiking TPP.

At a Christchurch Trade Reception Hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in November 2012 she said: "We think that the Trans Pacific Partnership is a very exciting opportunity. This multilateral free trade agreement would bring together nine countries located in the Asia Pacific region -- New Zealand and the United States, Australia, Chile, Singapore, Brunei, Peru, Vietnam, and Malaysia. By eliminating most tariffs and other trade barriers, and embracing productive policies on competition, intellectual property, and government procurement, we can spur greater trade and integration not only among the participating countries, but as a spur to the entire region.

"We are committed to making this TPP a strong and effective, quality agreement so it can deliver the best possible results to businesses and consumers. And the Trans Pacific Partnership is part of a larger commitment by the United States to create more economic growth."

On the Adelaide leg of her Australasian sweep, the then Secretary went on to say "TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements" to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field. And when negotiated, this agreement will cover 40 per cent of the world's total trade and build in strong protections for workers and the environment."

Small wonder that Donald Trump accuses her of posturing on trade when she now says she cannot support TPP and tries to paint her as a liar.

Neither presidential candidate was compelling when it came to their position on open trade. But Clinton at least acknowledged that the US has five per cent of the world's population." We have to trade with the other 95 per cent. And we need to have smart, fair trade deals."

Getting [TPP] through a lame duck session of Congress now seems most unlikely given the fixed positioning by the two candidates in the debate.

Trump has turned international trade into a political minefield with his opposition to agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta).

In the Herald's 2016 Mood of the Boardroom report we questioned CEOs on whether they thought TPP was "dead in the water." After watching Clinton's equivocations in Tuesday's first presidential debate most would probably have agreed with the proposition. Prior to the debate there was a strong expectation by one-third of respondents to the Herald survey that at least TPP would be amended by either candidate after the election and passed by Congress.

But now?

Clinton has previously hinted that TPP can still be "fixed".

But getting it through a lame duck session of Congress now seems most unlikely given the fixed positioning by the two candidates in the debate.

Not only did Trump put the boot into Nafta (which links the United States, Canada and Mexico) by claiming American citizens had lost jobs in part because it was poorly negotiated, he also tried to make it a Clintonian issue by linking its passage through Congress to Bill Clinton.

TPP is important to NZ's major exporters. It's also important to US business with 59 per cent of Americans saying that international trade is good for the US economy, and 57 per cent saying its good for US companies.

It just doesn't help when the two candidates allow protectionism to rear its head.

- NZ Herald

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Head of Business for NZME

Fran O'Sullivan has written a weekly column for the Business Herald since its inception in April 1997. In her early journalistic career she was a political journalist in Wellington and subsequently an investigative journalist who broke many major business stories including the first articles that led to the Winebox Inquiry in both NBR and the Sydney Morning Herald. She has specific expertise in relation to China where she has been a frequent visitor since the late 1990s. She is a former Editor of the National Business Review; has twice been awarded Qantas Journalist of the Year and is a multiple winner of the Westpac Financial Journalism Supreme Award.

Read more by Fran O'Sullivan

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