President Trump signed an executive order that will withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP is the largest planned regional trade accord in history, and was designed for the United States and 11 other nations in Asia and the Pacific to build a free trade zone. Its purpose was to lower tariffs, resolve trade disputes, and make patents safe, all while enhancing U.S. power in Asia.
The new administration has fulfilled Trump’s campaign promise, by changing America’s trade ties with other countries, and abandoning the TPP brokered by his predecessor. The withdrawal from multinational trade agreements stems from his belief that they “erode American jobs and opportunities”, and has had large geopolitical implications in Asia, and throughout the world.
By Jerry Haar and Altug Ulkumen Veni, vidi, vici. (“I came, I saw, I conquered”) Julius Caesar, 26 BC. Donald Trump, 2017. However, the new U.S. president confronts a landscape far more daunting and turbulent than the Roman emperor and his legions faced two millennia ago–namely one which is supplanting a decades-old, idealism-based global governance that originally arose from the ashes of the Second World War.
The world order that emerged after 1945 was one of even greater opportunities, as ideological barriers came crashing down a quarter of a century ago, unlocking vast labor pools that received their first taste of the free markets.
International trade and investment issues grow more complex and require major reconsideration by governments, firms and individuals. No-one is exempt from the new policy directions of the U.S. government and the impending British exit (Brexit) from the European Union (EU). They are accompanied by extensive security concerns and the need to manage vast immigration flows. Many of the accompanying political battles are not only driven by national options, but reflect the “because we can” principle. While U.S. policy changes are still under construction, Britain delivers the EU separation documents consonant with Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon by the end of March which then marks the bureaucratic starting point of Brexit.
Here in Washington D.C., the nation’s capital, we were drilled over the past few days to expect the snowstorm of the century. A minimum of 12 inches of snow were forecast and major anticipatory adjustments were taken. For example my health care office called to let me know about their closure – since the commute would be unbearable. Schools were closed (or on a ‘contingency’ basis), and even the visit of German Chancellor Merkel was postponed due to concerns about the plane and its landing.
The changing composition of U.S. trade
We have often heated discussions on trade policy shifts. To make reasonable arguments, we must consider that the fundamental composition of trade has been changing. For example, from the 1960s to 1990s, the trade role of primary commodities has declined precipitously while in parallel, the importance of manufactured goods has increased. This has meant that those countries and workers who had specialized in commodities such as rubber or mining typically fell behind those that had embarked on strengthening their manufacturing sector. With sharply declining world market prices for commodities and rising prices for manufactured goods, commodity producers were increasingly unable to keep pace. Some commodity-dependent countries realized temporary windfalls as prices of oil, wheat, and corn rose dramatically, only to watch them evaporate as prices dropped in 2009.