Trump torpedoes TPP trade deal. We urgently need to start talking about what next

The President-elect has said he will pull out of the Trans Pacific Partnership on his first day in office. Will the world economy become dominated by a series of protectionist blocs or can something better be salvaged from the wreckage

 

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The Independent Online

Time to say sayonara to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which was supposed to lock 12 nations representing 40 per cent of the world’s economy into the American way of "free" trade.

Donald Trump has promised to pull out of it on his first day in the White House.

It’ll be auf wiedersehen to the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the EU that was supposed to follow it too.

Hopefully they’ll be the only things the new man in the White House gets to blow up.

Like the majority of commentators I have to confess to calling the result of the US election wrong.

However, I did write that if Trump were to be elected he would make good on his promise to consign the latest batch of trade agreements, beloved by his predecessors, to the dustbin of economic history.

This he has made clear that he will do. And there are probably as many on the left as there are on the Trumpian right that are happy about it.

The failings of these deals have been much discussed. They have been in negotiated in conditions of high secrecy which inevitably make people fear the worst. What aren’t they telling us? Why is it so important that electorates are kept in the dark?

They hand entirely too much power to corporate interests. The international tribunals that rule on disputes they might have with elected Governments raise questions about accountability. Who watches the watchmen?

Their proponents argue that while they might be flawed, that’s true of all trade agreements. And would you really want to read pages of legalese? Someone has to settle arguments! Why can’t you just sit back and enjoy the ride? They’ll generate billions of dollars, pounds, euros, through the growth that accompanies them! Everyone should be happy!

Trouble is, the wealth that is said to have been generated by their predecessors has not been very evenly spread. The relative income of the American middle class has been flat lining for years. Average wages in Britain have been similarly stymied.

Western economies may have just about clawed back what was lost in the financial crisis. Incomes for the majority of people working in them, however, continue to lag behind.

And don’t even let me get started on the environment, which is too often asked to “take one for the team” when it comes to trade (although that’s also what Mr Trump is saying with some of his other policy proposals so his killing off the TPP is no big win for environmentalists).

Regardless, these debates look to be more or less over, at least for the next four years and perhaps beyond that. Some deals may still get done, but the high watermark of the big, complex, multi-country trade deal was reached during the presidency of Barak Obama.

The question facing the new President, and those with the misfortune of having to deal with him, is this: Where do we go from here? What will replace these gargantuan arrangements? Can a better, simpler, and crucially, more accountable way be found that secures the benefits of free trade without the very obvious drawbacks of TPP and TTIP? One that, preferably, sees the promised growth more evenly shared?

The worrying thing is that there has little in the way of constructive discussion about what next. And the alternative could be worse than the titanic trade pacts that have been sunk: A full-scale retreat into protectionism, with the world potentially divided into a series of large blocs. That is the sort of thing that ought to give Theresa May, for one, nightmares, as she prepares her country for life outside of one of them. But it’s not only Ms May whose sleep should be disturbed.

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