If Taiwan is excluded from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, it would represent an “existential threat” to the nation, US-Taiwan Business Council president Rupert Hammond-Chambers said on Wednesday.
Failure to join would undermine Taiwan’s economy and undermine stability and security in the Taiwan Strait, he told a TPP conference at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.
“There is a geostrategic rationale,” Hammond-Chambers said.
He said that membership in the TPP was critical for rebalancing cross-strait relations and that Taiwan needed to find new markets and to participate in new agreements.
Taiwan is hoping to join the TPP in a second round of negotiations that are to take place only after the initial agreement has been ratified by the 12 founding nations, which raised what US Chamber of Commerce senior vice president Tami Overby called “the elephant in the room.”
She said there was an overall deteriorating atmosphere and dissatisfaction about trade in the US and around the world.
It is far from certain that US President Barack Obama will be able to ratify the TPP before the end of his term and the agreement as it stands is not supported by either of the US’ presumptive presidential candidates.
While all speakers at Wednesday’s conference sounded confident that the TPP could be ratified later this year during Obama’s so-called “lame duck” period following the US presidential election, that remains uncertain.
“The outlook for the agreement is murky — the political hurdles in the US remain high,” Wilson Center senior associate Shihoko Goto said.
“I know you have seen some premature notices about the death of the TPP,” Overby said.
“The administration and [US] Congress are working very hard on outstanding issues,” she said.
Overby said that the TPP is the most advanced, highest-standard trade agreement ever negotiated.
She said that failing to ratify the TPP would have significant and lasting repercussions for the US.
Overby said that her advice to Taiwan is to pick long-standing politically difficult issues and resolve them now.
“Show that you are willing and able to do politically difficult things and start building domestic political support now for the challenges and changes that will be required to meet the comprehensive rules and standards of the TPP,” she said.
Hammond-Chambers said that China would most likely pressure other TPP members — particularly Malaysia, Peru and Chile — to stop Taiwan from gaining entry.
He said that the issue of the leanness-enhancing feed additive ractopamine in US pork had to be dealt with before Taiwan could expect to begin serious negotiations for entry to the TPP.
Hammond-Chambers said that Taiwan’s membership in the TPP is inherently in the interests of the 12 founding members, particularly the US and Japan — not just in monetary terms, but also in geostrategic interests.
American University assistant professor Pek Koon Heng said that of all the nations seeking entry into the TPP in the second round, Taiwan would have the hardest job, because China would lean on other TPP members to stop it.
Overby said that if Washington failed to ratify the TPP, the damage would be “cataclysmic” for the US and its global leadership.
“No one is going to want to do business with the US if we walk away from this agreement,” she said.