The Asianist

Balanced and fact-based analysis of Asian affairs

Posts Tagged ‘Trans-Pacific Partnership

Will the U.S. Pivot to Asia Sustain Through 2013?

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CSIS Asia hand Mike Green has his doubts about whether President Barack Obama can sustain the U.S. pivot or rebalance to Asia unveiled during his first term:

Given that 2013 could be the year of reckoning on Iran’s nuclear program, not to mention the likely denouement for Syria, John Kerry will require real strategic discipline to keep a focus on Asia. The administration has also had some difficulty managing the inherent tension between engaging China and maintaining a favorable balance of power in the region.  Allies such as Japan and the Philippines worry that in the second term the administration may tilt back towards an emphasis on reassuring, rather than dissuading, Beijing.  That would be unfortunate, since lack of consistency on that front hurt the administration in the first term with both the allies and Beijing.

Engagement of ASEAN is a noted success for this administration, but the terrain could become tougher in the years ahead, given renewed ethnic conflict in Burma, leadership transitions in Indonesia, and domestic political problems in Vietnam, Malaysia and elsewhere. A strong U.S. Trade Representative empowered to move forward on the Trans-Pacific Partnership would certainly help the sustainability of the Pivot, particularly with ASEAN.  Finally, all eyes will be on the defense budget. A carefully managed cut to defense spending that allows reprogramming for naval and air force capabilities in the Pacific is necessary.  Sequestration that throws the defense establishment into chaos would damage the region’s image of American strategic competence.

I have highlighted similar concerns in several recent pieces, including here.

The Future of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

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There is a fresh piece put out via the Singapore’s Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) on the origins and evolution of the Trans Pacific Parnership (TPP), a trade agreement currently being negotiated by nine countries – Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, new Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

The article delves into important and interesting issues such as how negotiators grappled with the complications of overlapping trading agreements between various counties and managed the domestic political constraints affecting members.

On the key current issue of how the additional members will affect the TPP (Japan, China and Mexico will all expressed interest in joining last year), the authors are conflicted. Many things still remain unclear, including whether new entrants will be allowed to join negotiations in progress or be asked to accede to existing texts, if the lack of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) in the US for talks with Japan will delay Tokyo’s entry, and how much more complex negotiations will get. The entire agreement also cannot be renegotiated for each new member, so at a certain point, the agreement will have to be closed for new membership (like the WTO) and countries who still want to accede has to accept the deal on the table with only minor modifications.

 But, at the same time, the authors argue:

Even the most enthusiastic supporters of the TPP recognize limited economic benefits in the current configuration. The agreement will not really make a difference until and unless at least one other major economy joins – especially from Northeast Asia. This means that every clause in the TPP has to be negotiated with one eye on potential members. If the agreement is too restrictive, burdensome, or delivers too few benefits, other states will not bother to apply for membership. This will dilute the importance of the whole ageement. Negotiators must continuously remember not only their own narrow interests or even the interests of the bigger, existing group, but also consider the interests of a potentially much larger future institutional grouping.

The article is a chapter in a forthcoming book by the two authors entitled: “The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP): The Quest for Quality in a 21st Century Trade Agreement”, to be published by Cambridge University Press in summer 2012. It should be a good read on an important subject.


New Piece Out on US-Singapore Relations

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This morning, I published an article with World Politics Review on US-Singapore relations, drawing on some of the insights gleaned particularly from a CSIS conference I attended in Washington, D.C. earlier this month.

The basic argument I make is that while the US relationship with Singapore is one of the success stories in the Asia-Pacific, there are still several lingering concerns. Singapore worries about the future direction of US-China relations, and the evenness and consistency of US engagement in Asia given America’s myriad preoccupations abroad and economic malaise at home. And while Washington would ideally like Singapore to take on even further leadership responsibilities in the region and beyond, the degree to which the city-state is able to do this will depend on how it manages several political, economic and demographic challenges at home. Here are a couple of paragraphs:

The United States’ relationship with Singapore has been and continues to be one of its most important and successful in the Asia-Pacific. Despite its small size, Singapore has transformed itself into a major player in Southeast Asia and the broader global economy, and has been a consistent supporter of a strong US presence in Asia. Today, the city-state is America’s 13th largest trading partner, hosts US naval ships in its waters, serves as a model for Washington on issues like education and offers valuable strategic advice to the United States on a variety of policy questions.

These past few weeks have seen a further broadening and deepening of the strategic partnership between the United States and Singapore. In addition to discussing a wide range of issues from political framework, the two countries inked a raft of agreements to institutionalize a strategic dialogue at the senior level and further enhance collaboration in areas such as education and joint technical assistance to developing countries. The flurry of diplomatic activity was punctuated by an all-day conference devoted to US-Singapore relations organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC.

Yet while officials note that ties are at an all time high, there are still lingering concerns about and challenges for the relationship…






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