The United States-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) may continue to contribute to the establishment of a free-trade area in the Asia-Pacific region but in a different form, according to the US consul general to Hong Kong.
“In the US, there has been a lot of concern by citizens about the impact of globalization and technological change and greater international trade and investments on the US economy,” Kurt Tong (唐偉康), who took office in August, told the Hong Kong Economic Journal in an interview.
“People in the US are anxious about the state of our economy. And that was translated into people being concerned about TPP,” Tong said.
“We saw both presidential candidates in the past election casting concern about TPP in their campaigns.”
He said it is still possible that TPP in its current form could be realized but it is also possible that other members will go ahead with the agreement without the US given the latest “political reality”, which refers to the fact that Donald Trump will become the 45th US President from Jan. 20, 2017. Trump has said he might walk away from the deal.
“We are not entirely sure what will happen next,” he said.
Prior to his current position in Hong Kong, Tong was principal deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs at the Department of State, the most senior career diplomat handling economic affairs for the department.
He has been a diplomat since 1990, including as director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council from 2006 to 2008 and as economic minister-counselor in Seoul from 2003 to 2006.
“Usually, when people talk about TPP, they focus on who is in it and who isn’t,” he said, adding that people should focus on the detailed substance of the agreement, which includes far-reaching provisions on access to services and trade, as well as labor and environmental protection.
“As TPP improves the global system of rules, that is better than not having TPP at all,” he said. “I think it will be better for TPP to happen without the US than if it just disappears,” he said.
If that does not happen, he said he hopes there might be some way, either through the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, to pick up the slack to harvest some of the fruits of the previous work.
APEC’s objective is to create an open trade environment in Asia Pacific that will benefit all trading and investing economies in the region, including the US and China, he said.
“It’s important for us to continue to push forward in that direction.”
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