Thu, May 01, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Wily negotiators required for TPP

By Eric Chiou 邱奕宏

US President Barack Obama started a week-long Asia tour last week by visiting Japan, an event highly anticipated by some US allies in Asia. Many believed that this trip symbolized the US’ determination to revitalize Obama’s pivot to Asia or rebalancing to Asia strategy with concrete action, after various distractions arising from US domestic politics and upheaval in other regions, such as Syria and Ukraine.

In a strategic sense, the US would also like to take the opportunity of Obama’s visit to reassure Asian allies of the US’ unwavering commitments in the region, while aiming to dissuade any miscalculated military aggression by China. The fear is China might be influenced to attempt a risky duplication of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in Asia. US reluctance to take decisive action over the crisis in Crimea, in the eyes of many Asian countries, has undoubtedly exposed its weakness and undermined its credibility, which may stir up more provocative moves in the region.

To boost Japan’s confidence in the US and to strengthen the cohesion of the two countries’ security alliance, Obama has made an unequivocal statement regarding the US position on the disputed islands in the East China Sea. He became the first US president to pledge publicly that US defense obligations, based on the US-Japan security treaty, “covers all territories under Japan’s administration, including the Senkaku Islands [the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台)].”

Although this security guarantee is targeted at easing Japanese anxiety over the risk of a military clash with China, Obama has also made clear that the US does want good relations with China and hopes each party does nothing to escalate tensions. In other words, Obama implicitly asked Japan to refrain from any provocative action toward China.

In contrast with the unambiguous statement by the US to safeguard Japan’s security, on the economic front, there was a failure to make any significant progress between Japan and the US over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the centerpiece of Obama’s push to expand the US’ presence in Asia, before Obama left for South Korea.

Despite the US-Japan joint statement deliberately downplaying the unresolved divergence between the two, asserting that they “have identified a path forward on important bilateral TPP issues,” and that “this marks a key milestone in the TPP negotiations,” the reality is that the US and Japan remain conflicted over farm goods and vehicles.

Since the US began taking the lead in TPP talks in 2009, the complexity and intricacy of this multilateral negotiation process have been broadly recognized, given the wide range of products it covers, regulations, new and sensitive issues, such as labor, the environment, state-owned enterprises investment protection, and intellectual property rights, etc.

As a result, even after more than 20 rounds of negotiations, there is no end in sight to the resolution of the TPP treaty negotiations.

For the US, the TPP serves a multifunctional purpose to further its national interests. Strategically, it plays a crucial economic element in support of the US pivot to Asia policy, by bolstering US economic involvement and relevance in the region. Economically, the TPP is viewed as an effective instrument to accomplish Obama’s economic objectives of creating more US jobs, boosting US exports and eventually stimulating its economic growth. Hence, leveling the playing ground by dismantling tariffs and non-tariff barriers among TPP members has been highly emphasized and prioritized by the US.

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