Wednesday 25 January 2017

President Trump signs executive order to withdraw US from TPP

The Straits Times, 24 Jan 2017

WASHINGTON • Mr Donald Trump kicked off a hectic first full week as US President yesterday with the signing of executive orders to fulfil campaign promises.

One of the first orders he signed was for the United States to formally withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, a 12-nation agreement that Democratic former president Barack Obama strongly backed but was never ratified by the Republican-controlled Congress.

"We've been talking about this for a long time," Mr Trump said as he signed the executive order to withdraw from the TPP in the Oval Office. "Great thing for the American worker what we just did."

The action made good on a campaign vow to scrap the TPP, which he had denounced as a "job killer" and a "rape" of American interests.

The agreement, seen as a counter to China's rising economic influence, was promoted by the Obama administration and aimed to set trade rules for the 21st century. Although signed in 2015, it has not yet gone into effect.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a big supporter of the accord, has said that the TPP without the US would not make sense.

Mr Trump was also due yesterday to sign an executive order for renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico, which he has called the worst trade deal the United States has ever signed, NBC News reported, citing an unidentified White House official.

Mr Trump, who was sworn in as the 45th US President last Friday, targeted both the TPP and NAFTA trade pacts during his election campaign.

Mr Trump said on Sunday that he planned to have talks soon with the leaders of Canada and Mexico to renegotiate NAFTA. "We will be starting negotiations having to do with NAFTA," he said at a swearing-in ceremony for top White House advisers.

"We are going to start renegotiating on NAFTA, on immigration and on security at the border."

Mr Trump had said during the campaign that he wanted to secure more favourable terms for the US.


Singapore to keep pursuing other free trade initiatives
Republic will also discuss the way forward with TPP partners after Trump ditches pact
By Chia Yan Min, Economics Correspondent and Yasmine Yahya, Assistant Business EditorThe Straits Times, 25 Jan 2017

Singapore says it will continue to participate in other free trade initiatives, as members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) consider new options after new US President Donald Trump ditched the trade pact that he said kills American jobs.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) told The Straits Times yesterday that the Republic will also have to "discuss the way forward" with TPP partners.

"Each of the partners will have to carefully study the new balance of benefits," MTI said in a statement.

Countries from Singapore to Mexico are now considering their next move, after Mr Trump on Monday signed an executive order to withdraw the US from the 12-nation TPP that together accounts for 40 per cent of world trade. He also vowed to renegotiate a free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico.

Australia and New Zealand yesterday said they still hope to salvage the TPP despite the US withdrawal.

But the deal cannot go into effect in its current form without US participation, MTI said.

"Singapore is committed to pursuing a rules-based trading system and greater regional integration," it added. "The agreement that the TPP parties has negotiated is one such pathway to achieve stronger trade linkages that will promote growth opportunities and job creation in all the member countries."

The MTI spokesman said Singapore will continue to participate in regional initiatives such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the proposal for a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific.

RCEP is an Asia-Pacific trade liberalisation initiative led by China that includes the 10 ASEAN members as well as Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and India.

Meanwhile, the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) called on the Government to join and encourage other TPP member countries to push for the implementation of the TPP, with or without the US.

"Without the US, the TPP continues to provide substantial benefits for businesses as the US market is already quite open," noted SBF chief executive Ho Meng Kit.

Singapore already has a bilateral free trade pact with the US, as well as with all of the other TPP countries except Canada and Mexico.

This means the about-turn by the US "might not have much detrimental impact on Singapore", noted DBS economist Irvin Seah.

The Trump administration's shift towards greater protectionism could hurt more, he said, adding: "This will deal a big blow to global trade liberalisation. It is negative for Singapore because we are a small, open, trade-dependent economy."

Other TPP partners have also expressed their keenness to make the deal work. Australia's Trade Minister Steve Ciobo, for one, told ABC Radio yesterday that a TPP without the US was "very much a live option".

Japan, another TPP member, has been pressing other signatories to push on with the pact too, while suggesting it will try to change Mr Trump's mind before next year, the deadline for the deal's ratification.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's top adviser Yoshihide Suga told CNBC: "We believe we still have an opportunity to convince the US about the importance of free trade."

But Professor Kamel Mellahi of Warwick Business School said: "The survival of the TPP trade deal is inconceivable. Plus, many Asian countries have an alternative in China's proposals."

Additional reporting by Grace Leong

TPP's uncertain future: Countries make efforts to salvage the pact
Several countries swung to making efforts to salvage the Trans-Pacific Partnership after President Donald Trump's decision to dump the pact left its future in doubt.

JAPAN - Abe still hoping to persuade Trump
By Walter Sim, Japan CorrespondentThe Straits Times, 25 Jan 2017

TOKYO • Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said yesterday that he would continue advocating free trade and try to convince US President Donald Trump of the importance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) despite Mr Trump's decision to withdraw from the deal.

The leader of the world's third- largest economy has been one of the strongest flag bearers for the TPP, having invested much political capital for its ratification.

Trade is expected to be a key issue when Mr Abe and Finance Minister Taro Aso meet Mr Trump, likely early next month.

Government spokesman Koichi Hagiuda said yesterday that it was "meaningless" for the TPP to proceed without the United States. He added: "Without the US, there is no balance in fundamental benefits."

Mr Abe told the Diet yesterday that Tokyo will pursue other multilateral trade deals, but will ensure they have terms similar to the TPP's "gold standard", which he said was "the model for the 21st century".

These deals are the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union and the 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which involves China.

Mizuho Research Institute senior economist Hidenobu Tokuda told The Straits Times that while the TPP without the US is an option, such an arrangement lacks bite.

He noted that Mr Abe sees it as his objective to "persuade the US to return to the TPP" to restrain China's expanding influence.

Mr Duncan Innes-Ker, regional director for Asia at the Economist Intelligence Unit, added that the EU is "likely to be more receptive to building key elements from the TPP" into a trade treaty with Japan.

Moody's Analytics associate economist Faraz Syed, who covers the Japan market, also noted that with US trade policy becoming more restrictive, "rising consumer markets in China could offer an alternative".


AUSTRALIA - Canberra floats a recast pact without US
The Straits Times, 25 Jan 2017

SYDNEY • Australia said it was working to recast the Trans-Pacific Partnership without the US and opened the door for China to sign up, after President Donald Trump ditched the huge trade pact.

The deal included a dozen Asia-Pacific nations which together account for 40 per cent of the global economy.

But Mr Trump declared on Monday he had "terminated" it in line with election pledges to scrap the "job killer" pact.

Canberra is floating a "TPP 12 minus one", with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull saying that his government was in "active discussions" with other signatories, including Japan, New Zealand and Singapore, on how to salvage the agreement.

"It is possible that US policy could change over time on this, as it has done on other trade deals," Mr Turnbull told reporters in Canberra, adding that the nominee for US secretary of state, Mr Rex Tillerson, and Republicans supported the TPP.

"There is also the opportunity for the TPP to proceed without the United States," he added.

"Certainly there is the potential for China to join the TPP."

The agreement was seen as a counter to China's rising economic influence. It was signed last year, but has not gone into effect.

Beijing has chosen to back an alternative trade pact, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo said Australia, Canada, Mexico and others had canvassed for a pact without the US at a World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in Davos.

"There would be scope for China if we were able to reformulate it to be a TPP 12 minus one, for countries like Indonesia or China or, indeed, other countries to consider joining," Mr Ciobo told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"This is very much a live option."



CHINA - Join TPP? Beijing not saying no to idea
By Goh Sui Noi, China Bureau ChiefThe Straits Times, 25 Jan 2017

BEIJING • China is non-committal on whether it will join the Trans- Pacific Partnership (TPP), now that the US will be out of the picture.

Asked by the BBC at a regular press briefing yesterday about joining the free trade pact, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said China has "always advocated the building of an open, transparent and mutually beneficial region through free trade arrangements".

Beijing has been suspicious of the TPP, worried that the US, which had been leading the initiative, might use it to isolate China from other economies in the region.

Ms Hua said China was ready to work with all parties to "continue the process (of economic integration) and bring new impetus to the development of the Asia-Pacific region and the global economy".

But Dr Teng Jianqun of the China Institute of International Studies said at a forum yesterday that China would like to join the TPP as it wanted to cooperate with all states.


MALAYSIA - Focus may switch to RCEP, South-East Asia
By Shannon Teoh, Malaysia Bureau ChiefThe Straits Times, 25 Jan 2017

KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia will focus on the China-backed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) should the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal collapse following US President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the agreement.

Although International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed said the remaining 11 countries would assess their options, Malaysia would have to look for other avenues to boost trade given the importance of the United States as its third-largest trade partner.

"Should the TPP fail to enter into force, it will be a missed opportunity for Malaysia since a number of research houses have singled us out as a clear winner in the (agreement)," he said in a statement yesterday.

In such an event, he added, Malaysia would focus on enhancing South-east Asian economic integration, pursuing bilateral free trade agreements with TPP members and "push for the timely conclusion of the RCEP".

Datuk Seri Mustapa also said that despite the US decision to exit the TPP, Malaysia would continue to engage US colleagues bilaterally on trade and economic relations.

The Malaysian government has been a staunch supporter of the TPP despite protests at home over fears that the trade deal may lead to rising costs, loss of sovereignty and diffusion of the pro-Malay affirmative action policies.


Trump's moves could hurt firms, say experts
The Straits Times, 25 Jan 2017

WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump's first moves on trade have cast a pall over US trade relations and could hurt US businesses, said trade experts.

Mr Trump's first order of business on Monday was to sign an executive order officially withdrawing from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

"It is a sign of a brake on global integration," said International Monetary Fund official Alejandro Werner, who heads the Western Hemisphere Department.

The withdrawal followed Mr Trump's threat in a meeting with corporate chief executives on Monday to impose "a substantial border tax" on products coming into the United States, to encourage firms to move manufacturing into the country.

But trade experts caution that such moves risk retaliation and, in an extreme event, a trade war.

Discriminatory tariffs are "just chaos", said Mr Barry Bosworth, chair of international economics at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think-tank. "They always respond," he said of China. "Then we have the significant risk of trade war, because there is no underlying principle, it is just, does Donald Trump like them or not?"

That would impose "a high cost to American companies" like Boeing, as China would switch to Airbus, he said. "How is that going to help us?"

On Sunday, Mr Trump repeated his pledge to begin renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in talks with the leaders of Mexico and Canada.

Trade experts said they are at a loss to understand his aims, warning that manufacturing in the region is highly interconnected, and change could be disruptive.

Mr Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said Mr Trump did not invoke the NAFTA article governing renegotiation, which would have "triggered a ticking clock" dissolving the treaty in six months unless an agreement was reached.


Ambitious 12-nation pact aimed at boosting investment and economic growth
The Straits Times, 25 Jan 2017

One of the most ambitious free trade agreements ever attempted, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) involves 12 countries - the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

The pact aims to deepen economic ties among these nations and is expected to substantially reduce tariffs, even eliminating them in some cases, and help open up trade in goods and services.

It is also expected to raise investment flows between the countries and boost their economic growth.

For the US, the TPP represents 40 per cent of world trade and a destination for more than 60 per cent of US exports.

Initial estimates claim the TPP would add US$305 billion (S$433 billion) in exports per year globally, with nearly half accounted for by an increase in US exports by an additional US$123.5 billion.

The TPP is also a strategic arrangement using free trade as an anchor.

As China is not among the participants, the pact provides an economic counterweight to Beijing in the region by securing preferential access to Asia's markets for US companies over Chinese firms.

* TPP without US a setback, but impact on Singapore not significant: Lim Hng Kiang
Singapore already has FTAs with US and all TPP nations except Canada and Mexico
By Lee U-Wen, The Business Times, 7 Feb 2017

THE withdrawal of the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) mega free trade deal is a "setback" but it doesn't have to be the ultimate outcome for the global trade liberalising agenda.

Trade Minister Lim Hng Kiang made this point in parliament on Monday as the House discussed the fate of the TPP and the impact on Singapore's economy now that the US is no longer in the picture.

He was responding to questions posed by three members of parliament (MP) - Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC), Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC), and nominated MP Randolph Tan.

Mr Lim made it clear that the TPP agreement - signed by all 12 members in February 2016 after seven long years of negotiations - cannot come into effect in its current form without the US.

Apart from the US, the other TPP nations are Singapore, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and Vietnam.

Collectively, they have an annual gross domestic product of nearly US$28 trillion that represents roughly 40 per cent of global GDP and about a third of world trade.

One of US President Donald Trump's first acts after his inauguration on Jan 20 was to sign an executive order to remove the US from the TPP, effectively killing off any hopes of ratifying the deal. The new US administration has indicated it will instead push for bilateral trade agreements in the future.

Article 30.5 of the TPP requires at least six countries, representing 85 per cent of the bloc's combined GDP, to ratify the agreement. The US, the world's largest economy, must be one of the six for this to happen.

With the TPP now in a state of limbo, Mr Lim informed the House of three scenarios that could emerge.

The first is for the remaining 11 members to press on with their respective plans to ratify the agreement, and hope that the US will change its mind and rejoin before the February 2018 ratification deadline.

The second is to pursue bilateral trade deals with one another instead, while the third is to go ahead with a so-called "TPP 11", which would be the original deal but tweaked to exclude the US.

"Each TPP partner will now have to carefully study the new balance of benefits without the US's participation, and consider the value of an agreement among the remaining 11 partners," said Mr Lim.

As far as Singapore is concerned, the impact of not having the TPP at all is not likely to be very significant, given that Singapore already has a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with the US in place. It also has FTAs with all the other TPP countries except Canada and Mexico.

"What we forgo are incremental benefits that we would have achieved over and above the benefits that we already have, through bilateral free trade agreements with the other nine of the countries in the TPP group," he said.

Singapore will remain actively engaged in other initiatives that promote regional integration, such as the 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).

Singapore is a member of both the RCEP and AEC. The former is a China-led trade deal that involves all ten ASEAN members and its six dialogue partners - China, India, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan.

The minister added that Singapore will also continue to work with like-minded partners at the World Trade Organization as advocates of a rules-based multilateral trading system.

Singapore's existing network of 21 FTAs also speak to the "deep ties" with key trading partners and this will help the country stay connected as the environment evolves.

"We will also actively pursue other forms of economic cooperation initiatives, including industrial parks and other projects in the region, to create more opportunities for our companies to collaborate and grow," said Mr Lim.

Earlier in his speech, he stressed that Singapore's external linkages can make the country more resilient against the growing threat of protectionism, having built up its regional and global connectivity with multiple regions around the world.

"We have also developed an efficient, stable, pro-business environment, with effective and consistent business and investment frameworks. This allows us to tap on the growth opportunities in Asia and elsewhere, for mutual benefit with like-minded partners," Mr Lim said.

"Amid the current rise of anti-trade sentiments, Singapore will stay the course to remain open and connected, to be an attractive global city that welcomes the best companies, talent and investments."

Parliament: Minister (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang's oral reply to PQ on impact of US' TPP withdrawal on Singapore's economy and trade

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