On October 14, in a speech to the Economic Club of New York, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heralded the United States’ so-called pivot toward Asia, announcing, “The world’s strategic and economic center of gravity is shifting east.” Her remarks were part of a recent U.S. effort to reaffirm the United States’ role as a Pacific power, a response to worries among Asia-Pacific states about the rise of China and the United States’ long-term commitment to the region. U.S. President Barack Obama will reinforce this message later this month when he visits several Asian capitals and hosts the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Hawaii. Central to this regional policy is trade: with Congressional approval of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement now behind him, Obama seeks to cement the United States’ economic role in Asia by finalizing the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, a free trade pact currently being negotiated by Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam.
When the negotiations are completed, the TPP agreement will bring most import tariffs on trade within the group to zero over a ten-year period. In addition to the merchandise traditionally included in previous such pacts, the TPP will cover services, intellectual property, investments, and state-owned enterprises, among other areas. Given its expansiveness, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk has touted it as a “twenty-first century” agreement that will lead to a flourishing of regional trade.
But if the TPP were to remain as it is presently constituted -- without Japan’s inclusion -- the agreement would not be the economic boon many hoped it would. The TPP group accounts for only six percent of U.S. trade, about the same fraction as U.S. trade with Japan alone. Japan is a major importer of
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