With the TPP foundering in several key participant countries as domestic opposition to free trade in the U.S. grows, China sees an opportunity to push its own Pacific liberalization framework. Reuters reports:
China hopes to see progress at next month’s summit in Peru of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) bloc in pushing ahead with a Chinese-backed trade liberalization framework, China’s foreign minister said while on a trip to Lima.
At an APEC summit in Beijing two years ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged members to speed up talks on the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP) being pushed by Beijing.
APEC approved work towards the establishment of FTAAP, which Xi said then was a “historic step”.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi said a feasibility study on FTAAP had been basically completed and China hoped to present it at this APEC summit, his ministry said in a statement.
China was always frustrated that it was left out of TPP, and it’s been looking to build alternative coalitions that isolate the United States. Making progress through the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is another priority for China, as it includes all of ASEAN, Australia, India, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand.
This should serve as a good reminder for trade skeptics that killing TPP isn’t an unalloyed good. America’s ability to influence events in Asia depends in large part on ensuring that there are attractive alternative economic opportunities to trading with China. TPP would make trading with basically everyone in the region except China easier, and therefore make trading with China less appealing by comparison. If China gets an agreement with Pacific countries and America doesn’t, that situation gets flipped.
Free trade deals are ugly, often undemocratic things and while we continue to believe there is economic value to be gained from them, we’d happily revisit the process and standards by which they are negotiated. But, especially for those who see no hope of economic benefit, it’s especially important not to forget that free trade deals can serve a critical geopolitical purpose. If the United States doesn’t ratify TPP, there will need to be an alternative strategy to enhance Washington’s influence around the Pacific Ocean.