Indonesian President Joko Widodo met with President Barack Obama yesterday and announced that his country would seek to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. The Associated Press:
“Indonesia intends to join the TPP,” Widodo said in the Oval Office, referring to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He provided no other details, but described the Indonesian economy as open.
Obama said Widodo was leading Indonesia in the “right direction.”
“We want to be a partner with you,” he said.
Indonesia had previously expressed interest in joining TPP but this is the strongest indication yet that it is serious about joining the pact, which the U.S. has negotiated with 11 other nations. Once the pact is ratified and takes effect — a process that could take a couple of years — it would cut tariffs and streamline trade rules among nations that account for 40 percent of global GDP.
Indonesia has extensive trade relations with China and has traditionally walked a fine line between Washington and Beijing, so its willingness to join the U.S.-brokered agreement is very important. Still, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman seemed uncertain about Indonesia’s prospects for joining the deal, noting that the country would have to remove many problematic investment barriers. Even so, Beijing cannot be thrilled that so many countries are looking to join the TPP.
During this period of heightened tensions, it’s easy to forget that America’s goal is a world order that the Chinese participate in, not a world order that’s rigged to stifle them. From the American perspective, China should aspire to join the TPP and recognize that it too benefits from free trade.
A final note: we hope Hillary Clinton in particular is paying attention. The deal she brokered and now disavows is already demonstrating its ability to strengthen a peaceful, trade-based world order.