Published in The Malay Mail Online on 10 November 2016
KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 10 — The United States’ plans for a multi-nation free-trade deal through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement involving Malaysia is doomed after Donald Trump won the presidency, regional analysts told Malay Mail Online.
However, it is not merely because of the Trump factor. According to analyst Oh Ei Sun, the chances of the TPP being implemented would no longer be tenable even if Democrat Hillary Clinton was elected US president.
“Both Hillary and Trump have declared that they are not in favour of TPP, so it will be doomed either way,” the adjunct senior fellow at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University’s Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies said.
Ooi Kee Beng, deputy director of Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, expressed a similar view.
“This is dead in the water, and that outcome will badly hurt the US’ reputation where trade agreements are concerned. With that, the US pivot to the region will also come into question.
“This should lead South-east Asian countries to rely more on their own wits and revisit their options within Asean and in relation to China,” he said yesterday when contacted.
Prof William Case from the City University of Hong Kong similarly pronounced a dire outcome for the TPP, adding that Malaysia will have to strengthen its existing trade ties.
“The TPP is surely dead. Malaysia will be drawn more deeply into the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and sundry bilateral deals,” he said.
Negotiations are ongoing for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a proposed free trade deal that excludes the TPP’s key driver, the US, but involves Asean’s 10 member nations and the six countries which the regional body already has trade deals with: Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
However, Wan Saiful Wan Jan, chief executive officer of local think-tank Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, suggested the TPP agreement could still be saved but will now hinge on outgoing US president Barack Obama’s efforts before his term ends.
“On TPP, Obama has several times said he would make sure the agreement is passed during his time in office and that is by end of this year.
“So it really depends if Obama can do it or not… it will be quite anxious to see what happens since Hillary and Trump are against the agreement,” he said.
Trump who is now US president-elect will only take office on January 20 next year.
Like Wan Saiful, Shahriman Lockman said it may still be possible for the US to ratify the TPP to enable its implementation.
“The only real prospect for the TPP is for it to be ratified under President Obama during Congress’ lame duck session, though chances are very slight.
“Trump has expressed nothing short of contempt for the TPP, but who knows what that gut of his will tell him once he’s in the Oval Office,” said the senior analyst at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia.
Trump, whose candidacy proved divisive even within his own Republican party, previously called the TPP the “biggest betrayal” of US workers, claiming that the free-trade deal would result in job losses at home.
The TPP agreement was signed on February 4 after negotiations concluded last October 5 between 12 nations, namely Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the US, Vietnam and Malaysia.
International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed told reporters in Parliament yesterday that the TPP would be jeopardised without the US which has been the key player behind the negotiations.
But last Thursday, Mustapa also indicated that there is a possibility that the US Congress will approve the deal by the end of this month or in early December.
Malaysia has committed to ratify the TPP by 2018, and both the lower and upper house of its Parliament had this January given its nod for the TPP.
The TPP, among other things, aims at encouraging trade by removing or lowering barriers such as trade tariffs.