Trump wants to join a trade agreement that no longer exists

Responding to concerns from the agricultural community, Trump today noted that he had instructed U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer and National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow to explore the US rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, “…on our terms of course”.

The news either portrays the information in a positive manner, or skeptically,  noting the many criticisms Trump has made about the TPP in the past. Very few, though, report that there is no longer a TPP. The eleven other countries involved with the TPP moved on when Trump abruptly pulled the rug out from under the deal. They signed a new deal, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), in March, 2018.

The US could ask to be included in the new CPTPP, but contrary to Trump expecations, they’re not going to let the US ‘lead’ this trade effort. The US leading any multinational trade agreement sailed as soon as Trump took office. We lost the opportunity when Trump pulled us out of a treaty that took years to negotiate.

Even if these other countries would allow the US to join—in a properly subordinate position, of course—the CPTPP is not the same as the TPP. Several provisions that the US insisted on for the TPP—provisions that protected pharmaceutical companies and intellectual property rights, for instance—were suspended in the CPTPP.

“The big changes with TPP 11 are the suspension of a whole lot of the provisions of the agreement. They have suspended many of the controversial ones, particularly around pharmaceuticals,” said Kimberlee Weatherall, professor of law at the University of Sydney.

Many of these changes had been inserted into the original TPP 12 at the demand of U.S. negotiators, such as rules ramping up intellectual property protection of pharmaceuticals, which some governments and activists worried would raise the costs of medicine.

Note that the rules are suspended, not completely dropped. They could be reinstated if the US rejoined the effort if the 11 other countries concur. But the countries are going to be wary of a US President whose every erratic action portrays a level of instability that could only undermine the careful negotiations necessary for a multinational agreement that is fair to all participants, not just one.

At most, the rules favorable to the US from the TPP would be reinstated. At most. And only if we’re really lucky, and we engage in some high-level groveling.

But Trump is implying that the countries have to give much more than the original TPP agreement. I don’t see how any country could accept this. Not without the country leaders having to explain their actions to a nation full of people angry at the loss of dignity such an action would imply.  Especially when it means agreeing with a person who is just as likely to wake up tomorrow and decide that the CPTPP is “… another disaster done and pushed by special interests who want to rape our country.”

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