WASHINGTON — In his first formal action on the first business day of his administration, President Donald Trump threw a long-proposed trade deal — the Trans-Pacific Partnership — in the trash.
“We’ve been talking about this for a long time,” Trump said, calling his action, issued as an executive order withdrawing the United States from the trade deal, a “great thing for the American worker.”
The TPP was one of President Barack Obama’s signature accomplishments, negotiated over years as a way of promoting what he had hoped would be a “pivot to Asia.” But even in the former president’s home state of Hawaii, Trump’s action on Monday morning drew little criticism.
Obama’s free trade agreement had come to be seen as an overambitious effort to promote internationalism that had gone awry.
Instead of large multinational agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which involved 12 Pacific Rim countries, Trump intends to embark on bilateral trade talks, one country at a time, that will increase American bargaining power, said spokesman Sean Spicer.
The deal had been widely criticized by environmentalists, labor rights activists and progressive political candidates, including Sen. Bernie Sanders. It was negotiated in secrecy, and many opponents said it favored big business interests and jeopardized American workers’ jobs.
Congressional Leaders In Agreement
Members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation were not disappointed by the decision.
“Any trade agreement must protect American jobs, raise American wages and safeguard the environment,” said U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono. “The TPP did not pass this test. Going forward, I will be open to supporting trade agreements that put the interests of Hawaii families ahead of big corporations.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said he had always opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
In an interview with Civil Beat on Monday, U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa said the TPP involved “too many countries and didn’t address critical issues.”
Hanabusa said she expects Trump to pursue other trade deals, more precisely negotiated.
“He’s not abandoning the concept of trade agreements,” Hanabusa said. “He wants to be in the midst of them, to do it for more advantage to us.”
“He’s not abandoning the concept of trade agreements. He wants to be in the midst of them, to do it for more advantage to us.” — U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, referring to President Trump
U. S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard had long been a vocal opponent of the trade pact, joining the AFL-CIO and the Sierra Club in February 2016 in a joint statement condemning it. Particularly troublesome to opponents was its creation of a parallel judicial process where investors could sue countries for allegedly discriminatory practices, known as an Investor-State Dispute Settlement, or ISDS.
“The American people have been left out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership from the beginning and it shows in the resulting agreement,” Gabbard said in the February statement. “If this deal is enacted, the American people will be left behind as American corporations benefit. From an ISDS process that allows foreign corporations to overrule our domestic rule of law, to unenforceable labor, environmental, and human rights protections, to no protections against currency manipulation, this deals helps the corporate class while selling out working Americans and their families.”
In a report on the agreement in 2015, the Sierra Club called the treaty “a dirty deal” and said the 6,000-page agreement “threatens our climate.”
The Sierra Club said the trade agreement would have allowed fossil fuel corporations to bring legal actions against climate regulations that diminished the value of their investments, would have endangered the environment by shifting U.S. manufacturing jobs overseas to places with fewer environmental protections and would have done nothing to prohibit illegal trafficking in timber and wildlife, including fish, sharks and whales.
Many other environmental organizations and labor unions opposed the deal as well. By the time voters went to the polls in November, both Trump and his Democratic opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, were on the record opposing it.
Trump’s action was also a public repudiation of House Republican Speaker Paul Ryan, who had worked with Obama to obtain “fast-track” authority to allow the agreement to proceed despite opposition from Democrats.
Some Concern In Business Circles
Not everyone in the islands was cheering the rejection of TPP.
Chamber of Commerce Hawaii Chief Executive Officer Sherry Menor-McNamara expressed some concern about the potential negative impact, saying that chamber members are eager to promote international economic opportunities, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. Menor-McNamara said the Hawaii chamber is affiliated with the National Association of Manufacturers, and that it had endorsed the trade deal.
“Based on NAM’s support of TPP, the agreement would have opened TPP markets and created a more level playing field in a part of the world where manufacturers are losing market share and set higher than status quo standards that (would) benefit the broad U.S. manufacturing sectors,” Menor-McNamara said in an emailed statement Monday.
Obama said he endorsed the agreement because he believed it would increase American political clout in Asia at a time of growing Chinese assertiveness. China was not a party to the agreement.
Trade was the “third leg” in Obama’s proposed pivot to Asia, Hanabusa said, along with diplomacy and the military. “He was trying to neutralize China,” she said.
What Obama himself said about the issue is disappearing into the ether. The discussion of the trade pact that formerly appeared on the White House website had disappeared Monday, excised by the Trump White House along with other topics, including a discussion of climate change.
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A Kailua girl, Kirstin Downey is a special correspondent for Civil Beat. A longtime reporter for The Washington Post, she is the author of "The Woman Behind the New Deal," "Isabella the Warrior Queen" and an upcoming biography of King Kaumualii of Kauai. She can be reached at email@example.com.