Editorial: TPP could point the way to a post-American era

Donald Trump could not have made it more blunt. "We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power," he said in his inaugural address. "From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it's going to be America First. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength."

In those sentiments it is possible to hear the end of the American century, an era of global leadership that grew out of Europe's devastation in two world wars, prospered in the second half of the 20th century against a rival ideology and reached its apogee with the collapse of the Soviet Union. For the past 25 years American values of personal freedom, democracy, open markets and expanding trade has dominated international statecraft and brought prosperity to the United States as well as much of the developing world.

This President is simply wrong about the effects on America. Far from other countries, "making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs", other countries are making components of American products, American companies are thriving in a global environment and the US has created plenty of new jobs. It remains the largest and richest economy in the world, though China has been growing at rates that could make it the largest before the mid-point of this century.

This President is wrong about many things, even things as plainly visible to television viewers as the fact that the crowd at his inauguration to not fill the mall all the way back to the Washington monument as he insists it did. He has a different conception of reality and all other governments will need to work out how best to respond to it.

The 11 other governments in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement appear to be already responding. Resigned to the US departure, the prime ministers of New Zealand, Australia and Japan have said they will press on with the TPP. Without the US it would be possible for the remaining members to consider an application for membership from China. Previous US administrations embraced the TPP mainly to steal a march on China in the Asia-Pacific region but governments such as New Zealand's have always favoured China's inclusion.

With Japan, China and possibly South Korea in the TPP, its borderless trade and investment regime could remain the prescription for a world economy while the US turns inward. "America First", says Trump, means "buy American and hire American".

The US economy is big enough to be self-sufficient and its market is too big and rich for any trading nation to ignore. Each country will probably have to do individual deals with Trump's negotiators from a weaker position. Even-handed, consistent agreements cannot be expected. Small trading nations have to look beyond Washington now for leaders who want the world to prosper.

- NZ Herald

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