Thursday, 24 November 2016

Donald Trump vows to quit TPP on first day in office

China in driver's seat as Donald Trump wants out of TPP
He orders team to draft series of executive orders to deliver quickly on his promises
By Nirmal Ghosh, The Straits Times, 23 Nov 2016

US President-elect Donald Trump appeared to hand China an early win when he revealed plans to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on Day One of his presidency.

His statement, made via a video released on Monday, has led to Asia watchers predicting that the move would result in more countries feeling pushed into signing up for the China-backed alternative, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

Mr Trump said he was going to issue a note of intent to withdraw from the TPP trade deal, which he called "a potential disaster for our country". Instead he said he would "negotiate fair bilateral trade deals that bring jobs and industry back".

In a short YouTube video spelling out his priorities, Mr Trump said he had ordered his transition team to draft a series of executive actions he could take on his first day at work to deliver quickly on his promises.

Apart from investigating visa fraud, he also promised to "cancel job-killing restrictions" on American shale energy and coal and create "many millions of high-paying jobs" for Americans. He also said he would rip up the TPP deal.

The stark declaration came just hours after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the TPP would be "meaningless" without the US.

Mr Abe told a parliamentary committee last week that if the TPP did not go through, it would be a pivot towards the China-led RCEP.

Yesterday, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga did not comment on Mr Trump's promise to quit the TPP, but said Japan plans to take the lead in working to ensure the TPP takes effect as soon as possible, and would lobby other signatories to the pact.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key reacted more bluntly. "The United States is not an island," he said. "It can't just sit there and say it's not going to trade with the rest of the world." Mr Trump made it clear he favoured bilateral pacts.

While the 11 other countries in the TPP may pursue their own deal without the US, the focus has also shifted to the RCEP, which includes the 10 members of Asean, plus China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

Viewed as an alternative to the TPP, which excludes China and India, RCEP represents about 40 per cent of world trade, compared with the TPP's one-third.

Even if the 11 nations decide to go it alone, they face a major problem: At least six original signatories of the TPP representing 85 per cent of the total gross domestic product of the 12 original signatories are needed to ratify the agreement. This is not possible without the US, unless the TPP is amended.

"TPP will survive, but it will be a shadow of its originally intended self. With the absence of the powerful US economy, the accord's potential to boost growth and generate new markets will be limited," said Mr Michael Kugelman, a senior programme associate at the Asia Programme of the Wilson Centre in Washington, DC. With the US' withdrawal, its position in the region would be weakened and China would be emboldened, he said.

Business don Nguyen Quang Trung of RMIT University Vietnam said the US had lost the chance to play a leading role in the region: "We know the RCEP is not comparable to TPP in terms of the change it makes to regulations, but the tariff reductions could immensely help China have influence in the Asia-Pacific. That's not good for the Americans."

MTI: Singapore committed to finding a way forward on TPP with other countries
By Grace Leong, The Straits Times, 24 Nov 2016

Singapore says it remains committed to working with other countries to "find a way forward" to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), even as United States President-elect Donald Trump moves to scupper the deal.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) was responding to The Straits Times on Mr Trump's vow to issue a note of intent on his first day of office on Jan 20 to leave the TPP, a 12-nation Asia-Pacific free trade pact that took the Obama administration seven years to negotiate.

Calling the TPP a high-quality free-trade pact that would promote growth and job creation, MTI said the TPP partners had agreed on the sidelines of last week's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit that the "fundamental rationale for the TPP has not changed".

"We respect the position of the incoming US administration. In the meantime, the other partners are looking to continue with domestic efforts to ratify the TPP," an MTI spokesman said. "Singapore and the US are like-minded partners who share robust and longstanding bilateral economic relations. The US enjoys a healthy trade surplus with Singapore, and our companies have created good jobs in both countries."

Mr Trump had called the TPP a "potential disaster" for the US, and pledged to negotiate "fair bilateral trade deals that bring jobs and industry back to American shores".

But his move may cost the US its strategic leadership in trade and diplomacy in the region, and give China a greater foothold. Already, China has been stepping up its push for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which excludes the US.

CIMB economist Song Seng Wun noted that even if the US backs out of the TPP, Singapore can still benefit from a modified version of TPP. "Singapore has free trade agreements with everyone except Canada and Mexico. If they remain committed to TPP, that means there will be opportunities for Singapore firms to tap these markets," he said.

"Even if TPP dies, Singapore already has a bilateral trade agreement with the US, so our position isn't entirely bad. Those companies in the region that want to explore opportunities in the US can do so through Singapore," Mr Song added.

"If Trump wants to give China the opportunity to sell the virtues of free trade, so be it. For us, it doesn't matter who pushes the agenda, as long as the push for more open trade remains on the table for export-dependent countries like Singapore."

China pushes for alternative Asian trade agreement
The Straits Times, 23 Nov 2016

BEIJING • China hopes for "early results" in negotiations for a giant Asian trade pact, its foreign ministry said yesterday after United States President-elect Donald Trump vowed to ditch a rival deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Mr Trump pledged in a short video message to signal the US' withdrawal from the TPP - a vast, arduously negotiated agreement among 12 countries that does not include China - on his first day in the White House.

The TPP is the economic plank of outgoing US President Barack Obama's strategic rebalance to Asia, and the US' departure from the pact would render it toothless.

Analysts say the move could give Beijing - which backs the alternative Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) - an opportunity to forge ahead with its own trade deals and fill a vacuum left by any American withdrawal.

RCEP talks were pressing ahead, said foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, adding: "Now, we hope that such negotiations can achieve early results."

The RCEP brings together the 10 members of the South-east Asian grouping Asean plus China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, but notably excludes the US.

China hoped that trade agreements would "reinforce each other rather than undercut each other", Mr Geng said.

Shanghai University of International Business and Economics professor Bin Jiancheng told news agency Agence France-Presse that an American withdrawal from the TPP would "give China some opportunities and time to promote economic integration in Asia, including RCEP" and to expand its influence.

He noted that the Asian giant's major role in global commerce - it is the world's biggest trader in goods - would protect it from being isolated or threatened by the TPP, whether or not the US took part.

But it would still be hard to overtake the prominent global position of the US. "Even if the US really does not go through with TPP, it will still use other methods to maintain its leading role, and its ability to set rules in the Asia-Pacific region," Dr Bin said.

In a Chinese-language editorial yesterday, the Communist Party's top newspaper, People's Daily, said China-US relations were "too big to fail". It stressed the "special responsibilities" the pair had as the world's two largest economies.

"It's not difficult to foresee that China-US cooperation can bring huge benefits to both countries and the world, but if there is constantly friction between them or even confrontations, it will bring disaster" to all, it added.

The RCEP was a focus of attention at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Peru over the weekend. Mr Tan Jian, a senior member of China's delegation at the summit, said more countries are now seeking to join the 16-member bloc, including Peru and Chile.


* Japan ratifies TPP despite Trump's vow to pull out
Hopes linger that free-trade pact can be revived one day, even as talks for separate China-backed deal gain pace
The Straits Times, 10 Dec 2016

TOKYO • Japan yesterday ratified the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free-trade pact aimed at linking a dozen Pacific Rim nations, hoping it will one day take effect despite President-elect Donald Trump's pledge that the United States will withdraw from it.

The pact, which aims to reduce trade barriers in some of Asia's fastest-growing economies, but does not include China, has been five years in the making. It must be ratified by at least six countries accounting for 85 per cent of the combined gross domestic product of the member states. Given the size of the American economy, the deal cannot go through without the US.

It has not been ratified by the US Senate, and Mr Trump last month vowed to withdraw from it after he is inaugurated next month. He plans to replace the TPP with bilaterally negotiated trade deals.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said that the TPP would be "meaningless without the United States".

By ratifying the deal in Parliament yesterday, Japan is signalling that it hopes the accord can be resuscitated when conditions are more favourable.

Government officials said the pact would essentially go into deep freeze, but they would not abandon hope of reviving it in future. Mr Taro Kono, a senior lawmaker in Mr Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said there was a chance Mr Trump would change his mind.

Then New Zealand Prime Minister John Key was reported to have joked last month that it would be fine with him to rename the pact the Trump Pacific Partnership if that would get Mr Trump on board.

America's imminent exit from the TPP has spurred efforts by officials from 16 nations who gathered in Indonesia last week to hammer out a separate, China-backed pact that excludes the US.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) talks are likely to be substantially concluded by the end of next year, said Malaysian Trade Minister Mustapa Mohamed. His comments echoed similar predictions this week by the Asian Development Bank and Indonesian Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita.

The negotiations, now into their 16th round, began in Bumi Serpong Damai city, near Jakarta, on Dec 2 and are set to end today. The next talks will be held in Japan in February next year.


Trump pledges steps to put America first
Executive actions on first day in office aim to rebuild middle class
The Straits Times, 23 Nov 2016

WASHINGTON • US President-elect Donald Trump has outlined six immediate steps aimed at "putting America first", in a push to protect American jobs and rebuild the country's middle class.

The Republican billionaire said he plans to order the series of executive actions on his first full day in the Oval Office on Jan 20.

"Whether it's producing steel, building cars or curing disease, I want the next generation of production and innovation to happen right here, in our great homeland: America - creating wealth and jobs for American workers," he said in a video released on YouTube.

"My agenda will be based on a simple core principle: putting America first," said Mr Trump, whose victorious campaign tapped the anger of working-class Americans who feel left behind by globalisation.

In addition to withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, he vowed to loosen regulations on domestic energy production.

"I will cancel job-killing restrictions on the production of American energy, including shale energy and clean coal, creating many millions of high-paying jobs," he said.

Sticking to his theme of protecting US jobs, Mr Trump said he would direct the Department of Labour to investigate abuses of visa programmes "that undercut the American worker".

Following up on his campaign pledge to cut government red tape, he also promised "a rule which says that for every one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated". And though his own transition team includes several lobbyists, he said there will be "a five-year ban on executive officials becoming lobbyists after they leave the administration".

During his campaign, Mr Trump had vowed to "drain the swamp" in Washington, to bring change to what he described as a corrupt federal government.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about Mr Trump's video is what he did not say.

He said nothing about fighting terrorism, confronting Russian aggression or pressuring Nato allies to pay more for their defence.

Instead, he said he would ask his top military officials for a comprehensive plan to guard America's vital infrastructure from "cyber attacks, and all other form of attacks".

On immigration, he avoided any mention of building a wall along the border with Mexico or deporting illegal immigrants. He also steered clear of his campaign promises to track Muslims and repeal the Affordable Care Act.

The 2 1/2-minute YouTube video offers one of the few chances for the public to hear from Mr Trump directly since his election two weeks ago. He has declined to hold a news conference and instead has used early-morning Twitter bursts to communicate.

The video - in which Mr Trump sits in front of an American flag - is his way of telegraphing the themes that will undergird his inaugural address, said communication professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Centre at the University of Pennsylvania. "What it does is cast him as presidential, because it establishes that the things he forecasts are important to the electorate as a whole and he's not emphasising the divisive elements that you would have expected to dominate his presidency," she added.

"He's signalling to his base, 'See, I'm keeping my word', but he's signalling to the world, 'See, I'm going to be a president for all the people'."

The video also underscores the extent to which Mr Trump intends to try and navigate around the traditional newspaper and television media outlets as he seeks to communicate his message to the public.

Yesterday, he rescheduled a meeting with The New York Times, complaining on Twitter about inaccurate coverage and a "nasty tone". This came a day after he met television anchors, news industry executives and reporters in New York in a session The Washington Post described as contentious but generally respectful.

In releasing the video, Mr Ari Fleischer - who was White House press secretary under then President George W. Bush - said Mr Trump was using technology to quickly and effectively communicate with the public in a format that Mr Bush's staff would never have dreamed of doing 15 years ago because the news media would have dismissed it as propaganda.

President Barack Obama has become adept at doing the same thing in recent years, through videos posted on Facebook and other media.


Trump pulls back on hardline rhetoric
But he draws flak from his supporters for change of heart during interview
The Straits Times, 24 Nov 2016

NEW YORK • US President-elect Donald Trump, in a wide-ranging interview with The New York Times, struck a more cordial tone by dropping some of the hardline rhetoric of the campaign, but was quickly criticised by some of the very hardline groups he wooed.

In perhaps the most surprising comments during the 75-minute interview, Mr Trump eased off on his comments on climate change and said he had no intention of pressing for an investigation into Mrs Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server or the financial operations of her family's foundation.

He dropped the "lock her up" pledge that became an election rallying cry, saying he was no longer interested in pursuing Mrs Clinton.

"I don't want to hurt the Clintons, I really don't," Mr Trump said during the interview. "She went through a lot and suffered greatly in many different ways, and I am not looking to hurt them at all. The campaign was vicious."

The decision angered some his most fervent supporters, who immediately criticised his seeming change of heart.

"Broken Promise," blared the headline on Breitbart News, a conservative news site that has strongly backed Mr Trump.

Conservative commentator Ann Coulter, one of his staunchest supporters during the campaign, suggested on Twitter that Mr Trump was overstepping his role.

"Whoa! I thought we elected @realDonaldTrump president," she wrote. "Did we make him the FBI, & DOJ? His job is to pick those guys, not do their jobs."

During the interview, Mr Trump also distanced himself from the white nationalist alt-right movement.

Members of the alt-right community have openly praised Mr Trump's election victory with messages clearly inflected with neo-Nazi rhetoric. "Hail Trump," Mr Richard Spencer, a prominent member of that movement, said during a recent event to celebrate the election.

But during the interview, Mr Trump declared: "I condemn them. I disavow, and I condemn."

Mr Trump, who prides himself as a consummate dealmaker, also said he would "love" to clinch a deal to end the intractable conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

"That would be such a great achievement," he told the paper.

A New York Times reporter tweeted that Mr Trump also suggested that his son-in-law, Mr Jared Kushner, could help broker the deal.

Mr Kushner, who is married to Mr Trump's daughter Ivanka, is from an Orthodox Jewish family. The businessman and investor was a close adviser to Mr Trump during the election campaign.

Mr Trump had railed against The New York Times during the campaign, saying it treated him unfairly. That strained relationship took an odd path on Tuesday, when the planned interview was abruptly cancelled by Mr Trump and then quickly rescheduled.

After a morning of back- and-forth statements, Mr Trump met representatives at the paper's Manhattan headquarters.

At the end of the interview, he praised The New York Times as "a world jewel".


TPP leaders vow to press on with ratification of trade deal

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