Ambassador Bleich on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich (Ambassador to Australia, 2009-2013)

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Why is passing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) important for the United States? How would passing these trade agreements affect the country in which you served as Ambassador?

I will leave it to others to explain the many direct economic benefits of TPP and TTIP for opening markets to U.S. goods, expanding jobs for American workers, and leveling the playing field for American industries to compete. Instead, I’ll focus on a single – but vital – aspect of TPP: it will make us more secure.

The Asia-Pacific is rapidly becoming the center of economic gravity in the world. Of the 3 billion people who may be added to the middle class in the next 20 years, 2.5 billion of them live in the Asia-Pacific region. That is where our new consumers will live, where new income sources will be generated, where our business people will travel, and where we will compete economically. Today, however, the markets of that region lack a coherent economic order, and rule of law varies dramatically among the nations. Instead, protectionism, exploitation of land and laborers, corruption, and information barriers, all threaten to produce a race to the bottom that hurts U.S. industry and threatens to destabilize markets.

Vietnam, for example – a nation poised to enter the G-20 in the next decade – has no minimum wage or workplace safety laws at all. Not only does this place American businesses at a disadvantage, but also it threatens the market’s stability as citizens enter the middle class and gain a voice. History has shown that exploiting workers and degrading lands is not sustainable, and will only ensure unrest and uncertainty in these markets. TPP would impose some coherent order and minimum standards of conduct. In linking 40% of the world’s GDP and 25%of all trade in a single agreement, it will establish a precedent for nations agreeing to common trade rules. Indeed, the mere prospect of TPP is already spurring non-TPP nations to follow suit. And it will eliminate dangerous and destabilizing practices. In doing so, TPP has the potential to make U.S. markets more secure and predictable, to reduce the risk of unrest in regions where Americans must travel, and to shape a broader culture of cooperation and economic interdependence in a region that struggles with deep-seated animosities.

For Australia, TPP has likewise been a crucial part of its broader strategy to harmonize the Asia-Pacific economically, diplomatically, and militarily. Australia has invested heavily in advancing regional cooperation through the East Asia Summit and APEC, and to encouraging joint exercises among all security forces. TPP is the most important piece of its economic strategy. When Australia initially joined the negotiations, it did so in the hopes of attracting other large economies to ensure that the agreement had economic heft and a common understanding of the rule of law. With the addition of Canada, Mexico, and Japan, Australia now foresees a trading bloc that discourages any one nation from attempting to impose unreasonable economic demands on other nations in the region, and that empowers emerging economies to make tough but necessary reforms to their domestic practices. The net effect is to smooth trade, calm anxieties in neighboring sea channels, expand access to information, and foster fair trade. In short, Australia sees TPP as we do – it will not only make all partners more prosperous, it will also make us all more secure.

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