Trans-Pacific Trade Partners Are Moving On, Without the U.S.

Other countries are slowly but surely making progress on their own sweeping trade deals, without any participation from the United States. China is negotiating a potential deal with 16 Asia-Pacific countries, including Japan, India and South Korea. The European Union and Japan hope to strike separate trade pacts with a group of South American countries, Brazil and Argentina among them.

From tough talk on China (“they took our jobs”) to casting doubt on the decades-old North American Free Trade Agreement (“the worst trade deal ever made”), Mr. Trump has threatened to lob a grenade at an increasingly integrated global economic system.

His administration has questioned years of efforts to lower global trade barriers, arguing that they hurt American workers and led to big trade deficits. It also means dealing with nations one-on-one, rejecting the regional and global pacts his predecessors pursued.

But other factors are pushing the rest of the world to fill the void left by the United States. China’s rise as a regional and economic power is driving other nations either to join with it or to join together to counter it. Fast development in places like Southeast Asia means potential new markets for all kinds of products. The absence of the United States means potential opportunities for others.

“At some point, the administration may begin to see that this was a strategic mistake and that dropping out of trade is not in the interest of American workers,” said Rufus Yerxa, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, a lobbying group that represents companies like Walmart, Ford and Microsoft.

“We’ve got to compete and be a winner in global markets — and the danger is, the strategy is divisive,” he added.

More worrying for some is the possibility that the Trump administration is ceding its position as global leader to China, a rising economic and political influence in the region.

“The U.S. has lost its leadership role,” said Jayant Menon, an economist at the Asian Development Bank. “And China is quickly replacing it.”

Under the new Trans-Pacific trade deal, members would enjoy tariff-free trade with one another. That would allow companies in the member countries to have faster and better access to other markets than their American rivals.

But there are still challenges ahead of the group, and not all the prospective member states meeting in Danang, Vietnam, were in complete accord over…

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