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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement

Ian F. Fergusson
Specialist in International Trade and Finance

Bruce Vaughn
Specialist in Asian Affairs

The economic and strategic architectures of Asia are evolving. One part of this evolving architecture is the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), a free trade agreement that includes nations on both sides of the Pacific. The existing TPP, which originally came into effect in 2006, consists of Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, and Singapore. The United States, Australia, Peru, and Vietnam have committed themselves to joining and expanding this group. The first discussions among the eight countries took place in Melbourne, Australia, during the week of March 15, 2010. 

Other architectures, such as the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's Asia-Pacific community initiative, and the East Asia Summit (EAS) have both economic and strategic aspects. They can be grouped into two categories: (1) groupings that are Asia-centric in approach and exclude the United States, and (2) those that are Trans-Pacific in nature and that include, or would include, the United States and other Western Hemispheric nations. The TPP is one vehicle that could be used to shape the U.S. agenda with the region. 

Asia is viewed as of vital importance to U.S. trade and security interests. According to the U.S. Trade Representative, the Asia-Pacific region is a key driver of global economic growth and accounts for nearly 60% of global GDP and roughly 50% of international trade. Since 1990, Asia- Pacific goods trade has increased 300% while there has been a 400% increase in global investment in the region. The United States has pursued its regional trade interests both bilaterally and through multilateral groupings such as APEC, which has linked the Western Hemisphere with Asia. There appears to be a correlation between increasing intra-regional economic activity and increasing intra-regional political and diplomatic cooperation. Many observers view the more recent intra-Asian Association of Southeast Asian States (ASEAN) plus three—China, Japan, South Korea—and the ASEAN plus six (also known as the East Asia Summit)—China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, New Zealand—groups as having attracted more interest within the region in recent years. The United States is not a member of either the EAS or the ASEAN plus three group. President Obama has stated that the United States looks forward to engaging with the East Asia Summit more formally. 

China's rapidly expanding economy and Japan's developed economy have made them attractive trading partners to many Asian nations. Many regional states also view the United States as having been distracted by events in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years. This has led some to increasingly look to China and Japan as key partners. China's approach to the region has also shifted dramatically in recent decades as it now pursues its interests with the region in a relatively accommodative manner. 

U.S. participation in the TPP would involve the negotiation of FTAs with New Zealand, Brunei, and, potentially, Vietnam. The United States currently has FTAs in force with Chile, Singapore, Australia, and Peru. Bilateral negotiations with New Zealand may focus on agricultural goods such as beef and dairy products. The possible inclusion of Vietnam may prove controversial from the standpoint of certain U.S. industry groups, such as textiles and apparel, as well as those concerned with labor, human rights and intellectual property issues. The involvement of Vietnam could add a higher level of difficulty, yet is illustrative of the challenges associated with developing a truly Asia-Pacific-wide trade grouping. All the potential parties may face complex negotiations in integrating the myriad FTAs that already exist between some TPP parties.

Date of Report: April 14, 2010
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: R40502
Price: $29.95

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