If TPP Fails to Pass, What Will Taipei Do?
United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
August 15, 2016
Executive Summary: Twelve nations on both sides of the Pacific have finally reached agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). But both leading US presidential candidates have publicly opposed the agreement. If the TPP fails to pass during the five months left in Obama's term of office, the new president could shelve the agreement indefinitely. This would endanger American leadership. All nations seeking to join the TPP, including the ROC, must reconsider their options.
Full Text Below:
Twelve nations on both sides of the Pacific have finally reached agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). But both leading US presidential candidates have publicly opposed the agreement. If the TPP fails to pass during the five months left in Obama's term of office, the new president could shelve the agreement indefinitely. This would endanger American leadership. All nations seeking to join the TPP, including the ROC, must reconsider their options.
Obama recently told Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong that he, Obama, is currently the president, and he supports the TPP. But even as Obama spoke, six House Republicans signed a letter asking him not to put the TPP up for a vote. Earlier, when Congress voted 218 to 208 to grant Obama fast track negotiating authority, these six stood by him. Now however, they have flipped, and guarantee Obama's defeat.
Now that the TPP may be shelved, the government must rethink its development path. Currently every nation in the world considers trade its highest priority. No progress has been made in WTO negotiations. Therefore they have begun signing bilateral or multilateral free trade agreements, or joining regional trade associations. Taipei's goal is to join the Washington led TPP and the Beijing led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
The Ma government adopted a two-pronged approach. On the one hand, it signed the STA with Beijing. It also negotiated an MTA. It sought Mainland help in joining the RCEP. On the other hand, it sought help from Washington joining the TPP during second round negotiations. It allowed the importation of key agricultural products, especially US pork containing Ractopamine. When the DPP came to power, cross-Strait relations chilled. The STA can no longer be passed into law. MTA negotiations have ground to a halt. The COA chairman announced that the DPP government would allow US pork imports. This triggered immediate protests. The Tsai government was afraid to rock the boat, and did not try again. The Tsai government is hobbled. It lacks clear direction. It has called for a "New Southern Strategy". But the business community sees no market in the south. Naturally it is in no hurry to invest there.
Passage of the TPP during Obama's term appears unlikely. Whether Hillary or Trump is elected, the content of the agreement may change. Taipei being voted in during second round negotiations, during President Tsai's term, is extremely unlikely. Therefore current pressure from Washington to allow US pork imports may be a blessing in disguise. But if political commissar Teng Chen-chung spins this as promotion of the TPP, he is either ignorant or engaged in self-deception.
The TPP is a high standard international trade agreement. Taiwan's political atmosphere is highly protectionist. Any attempt to liberalize agriculture or services will be met with widespread protests. If truth be told, even now the TPP would have a hard time passing. By contrast, the RCEP is an eminently suitable free trade agreement for developing nations. Tariff barriers can be eliminated through negotiations. Nations which insist on retaining protective measures can also be accommodated. Therefore, Taipei can first negotiate with these nations according to RCEP standards. Then, step by step, it can negotiate with them according to TPP standards.
Put bluntly, the government is currently under a political shadow. The Tsai government refuses to recognize the 1992 Consensus. Therefore Beijing has closed down all channels of communication. This makes joining the RCEP even more difficult. Taipei hopes that based on political considerations, Washington will treat Taiwan the same as it has Vietnam, relaxing its TPP membership requirements. This would fulfill Washington's trade and strategic requirements in one fell swoop. But any such hope will only end in disappointment. Washington cares only about US national interests. It is unwilling to compromise on bilateral trade agreements. The TPP is no exception. Due to political considerations, politicians often say no when they mean no, letting down other Asia-Pacific nations. Not to mention, national leaders who make concessions during negotiations are often forced to step down.
The government is overly reliant on political slogans. It obstinately refuses to have contacts with the Mainland. It forfeits tangible economic benefits. This is the same Closed Door Policy that Chen Shui-bian imposed on the nation when he was in power. The only difference is in degree. Today nations are rooted in economic and trade relations. Every nation seeks shelter from the storm. Asia-Pacific nations talk with the United States about the TPP. But they also talk with Beijing about the RCEP. Our diplomatic situation is fundamentally unfavorable. Putting all our eggs in one basket of course, make it even more dangerous. Taipei cannot afford to offend either Beijing or Washington. When Washington abandons its allies out of self interest, it does not even bothers to say goodbye. Has the Tsai government learned nothing from the Taiping Island incident?
2016-08-15 02:47 聯合報 聯合報社論