President Donald Trump walks to the podium to address participants of the annual March for Life event, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington,...
Manuel Balce Ceneta

‘The world just moves on without us’

Almost immediately after taking office, Donald Trump announced the formal demise of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a framework the Republican president didn’t seem to understand, but nevertheless hated. Trump assured Americans soon after that he’d replace the TPP with a “beautiful” alternative.

That was a year and two days ago. There’s still no alternative.

In the fall, the president spoke in Tokyo to a group of Japanese business leaders, many of whom backed the TPP. “We will have more trade than anybody ever thought of under TPP, that I can tell you,” the American president promised. “TPP was not the right idea. Probably some of you in this room disagree, but ultimately I’ll be proven to be right.”

In reality, the only thing that’s being proven is Trump’s ability to isolate the United States. In fact, as Reuters reported this week, our former TPP partners have decided to simply go around us.

Eleven countries aiming to forge an Asia-Pacific trade pact after the United States pulled out of an earlier version will sign an agreement in Chile in March, Japan’s economy minister said on Tuesday, in a big win for Tokyo. […]

An agreement is a win for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government, which has been lobbying hard to save the pact, originally called the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Remember, that partnership was originally the United States’ idea. Now it’s “a big win” for Japan – which came on the heels of another big trade deal between Japan and the European Union, announced last year.

A Washington Post  report in the fall noted that when Trump withdrew, it “created a vacuum other nations are now moving to fill, with or without the president.”

A FiveThirtyEight piece, noting that the Republican’s plans “backfired,” explained, “Japan, the world’s third-biggest economy, has assumed the leadership role. Canada, initially a reluctant member of the club, volunteered to host one of the first post-Trump meetings of the remaining TPP countries to work on a way forward – perhaps because research shows that Canadians will do better if they have preferential access that their American cousins lack. Smaller, poorer countries such as Vietnam and Malaysia wanted freer trade with the U.S. but agreed to consider improved access to countries such as Australia, Canada and Japan as a consolation prize for years of hard bargaining.”

There’s a lot of this going around. The New York Times  added today:

[A]s the global economy gains strength, Europe and countries including Japan and China are forging ahead with deals that do not include the United States.

Thirty-five new bilateral and regional trade pacts are under consideration around the world, according to the World Trade Organization. The United States is party to just one of them, with the European Union, and that negotiation has gone dormant. The United States is also threatening to withdraw from one of its existing multilateral agreements — the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada — if it cannot be renegotiated in the United States’ favor.

Phil Levy, a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and an economist in the George W. Bush administration, told the Times, “Maybe there was some sort of presumption on the part of the president and his team that if the U.S. said stop, this process would come to a halt. What this shows is that’s not true. The world just moves on without us.”

As the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, gets underway, White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn told reporters, “We’re going to the World Economic Forum to share President Trump’s economic story and to tell the world that America is open for business. America First is not America alone.”

That’s a nice bumper-sticker slogan, but whether Trump World intends to isolate the United States or not, that increasingly appears to be the practical effect of this president’s attempts at leadership.

Asia, Donald Trump, Japan and Trade

'The world just moves on without us'