Pacific Trade Deal Is Good for the U.S. and Obama’s Legacy

3 minute read
Ian Bremmer is a foreign affairs columnist and editor-at-large at TIME. He is the president of Eurasia Group, a political-risk consultancy, and GZERO Media, a company dedicated to providing intelligent and engaging coverage of international affairs. He teaches applied geopolitics at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, and his most recent book is The Power of Crisis.

After years of talks, the 12 Pacific Rim countries at the bargaining table have announced agreement in principle on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, which covers countries representing about 40% of global economic output. This is a big win for U.S. negotiators and for the other countries involved. It will also be a crucial part of President Obama’s foreign policy legacy.

The deal must now be ratified by legislatures of the 12 countries: the United States, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, and Brunei. President Obama has “fast-track authority,” which allows him to put the deal before Congress for a simple up or down vote. It will pass. And all the other countries are expected to pass it, as well. The main remaining question is Canada, where the matter might be decided by an upcoming election.

TPP will reduce tariffs across most goods and services and establish new rules for trade and commerce. Its biggest economic impact will be felt in smaller markets like Vietnam and Malaysia. But it will also provide a critical boost for Japan’s economy, helping Prime Minister Shinzo Abe continue to push forward on economic reform.

It is likely to add half a percentage point to U.S. GDP growth in coming years, but its larger impact for the United States will come from its geopolitical impact. Washington is doing less in the world these days. That’s what the U.S. public wants and American finances demand. But Asia is an exception, because deeper involvement there can create economic opportunities (like TPP), and because China’s neighbors are eager for a lasting U.S. presence to protect them from over-dependence for growth and security on China. TPP ensures the U.S. will maintain a long-term foothold in this crucial region; it deepens relations with existing allies like Japan, and boosts efforts to strengthen relations with potential partners like Vietnam.

Over time, it may even encourage China, which can’t yet meet open-market TPP standards, to join in some form in coming years. If so, it will become an even bigger win for the U.S., for Asia, and for the entire global economy.

The deal certainly has its critics. Hillary Clinton, who called this agreement the “gold standard” of trade deals when she served as Secretary of State, has reversed her position. Other prominent Democrats oppose it. They have reason. This deal will make it easier for manufacturing jobs to be shipped overseas. In reality, however, the greatest threat to U.S. manufacturing jobs comes from automation and other technological advances, not from trade.

If this deal were judged purely on its economic merits, it would still be a good agreement for the U.S., but just barely — and only with important tradeoffs. But in a world where China is using its economic weight to cut new trade deals that align other countries to (less open) Chinese economic standards, TPP is very good thing indeed.

That’s why, on balance, this is a good deal for the United States and an important win for the Obama administration.

See Photos of Barack Obama in College

Barack Obama College Years Lisa Jack
Chance Encounter In 1980, when Obama was a freshman at Occidental College in Los Angeles, he was approached by an aspiring photographer named Lisa Jack, who asked him if he would be willing to pose for some black and white photographs that she could use in her portfolio.Lisa Jack
Barack Obama College Years Lisa Jack
Handsome Of her first meeting (in a campus eatery) with Obama, Jack remembers only that "He was really cute. But what else does a 20-year-old girl remember?"Lisa Jack
Barack Obama College Years Lisa Jack
Styled In the photos, Jack says, "You can see he is just posing, initially, but as the shoot goes on, he starts to come out. He was very charismatic even then."Lisa Jack
Barack Obama College Years Lisa Jack
Prop Jack never realized her dream of becoming a photographer and is now a psychologist.Lisa Jack
Barack Obama College Years Lisa Jack
Pose Jack and Obama would see each other only a few more times while students. But in 2005, while on a tour, she spotted Obama on Capitol Hill and yelled hello. "He knew exactly who I was after all this time," Jack says. "I was amazed."Lisa Jack
Barack Obama College Years Lisa Jack
Doubt On a dare from a skeptical friend, Jack decided to track down her negatives from the shoot.Lisa Jack
Barack Obama College Years Lisa Jack
Searcher Initially, before she dug the film out from her basement, Jack never thought her pictures would have much life beyond her own darkroom.Lisa Jack
Barack Obama College Years
Smile When she found them, the images of Obama "blew me away," she says. "I had no idea I'd taken a whole roll of film."Lisa Jack
Barack Obama College Years
Charm For a while, Jack put the negatives in a safety-deposit box, so that they could not be used until after the election, when there would be no chance they could be used for a political purpose.
Barack Obama College Years Lisa Jack
Thoughtful Today, Jack says, she hopes the photos reveal a "spirit of fun and thoughtfulness."Lisa Jack
Barack Obama College Years Lisa Jack
The Man Who Would Be President "I'm not political," Jack says, "(But) these are historic photos and they should be shared."Lisa Jack


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