TPA critical for US leadership in the Pacific

Securing U.S. economic and strategic leadership across the Pacific depends on effective commercial diplomacy underpinned by a clear twenty-first century geopolitical strategy. Congress should be a vital partner in the ongoing American “rebalance” to Asia and doing so requires the timely passage of trade promotion authority (TPA).

Only with TPA—a demonstration of Congress’ commitment to conclude an ambitious Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement—will the administration be able to negotiate the best possible deal. TPA is essential so that other countries take US positions seriously and agree to a deal that benefits US workers and consumers. 

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If successful, TPP could catapult the United States into a new era of partnership with Latin America and countries across the Asia-Pacific. As the fastest-growing U.S. trade partner, Latin America’s presence in a successful TPP could lead to a new era of economic integration in the hemisphere. Such an agreement could broaden U.S. relationships with economies on the rise and with markets close to U.S. ports. Expanding close trade and investment relationships with Mexico, Canada, Chile, and Peru will provide immediate benefits and job-creating growth in the United States.

Launched in 2004 as a small but forward-thinking agreement to liberalize trade and investment, TPP has grown to include twelve member countries that represent 40 percent of global GDP, 26 percent of global trade, and 40 percent of US trade. Along with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), TPP has become one pillar of a US policy objective to foster international support for new rules of global economic governance.

The imperative of broadening America’s commercial ties in Latin America and Asia is critical, but the geostrategic benefits of signing a trade agreement with eleven partners on both sides of the Pacific are perhaps even more significant. Congress should be mindful of TPP's major security-policy implications. Through increased economic ties, TPP will reassure US partners across the Pacific Rim and act as a counterbalance to China.

U.S. policymakers need to accept that the United States is the de facto TPP leader. Countries across the Western Hemisphere would suffer major economic and diplomatic setbacks should TPP fail.

By the end of 2014, Congress must pass TPA to give U.S. negotiators the backing to complete the talks. A key element of this process will demand that the Senate Finance Committee release a new draft TPA bill that can command bipartisan support. For President Obama, an important first step is to publicly and convincingly convey the benefits of his international trade agenda to the American people and members of Congress.

Many have rightly concluded that more transparency is needed in the TPP process. With full congressional buy-in, the TPP negotiating process can be made more transparent without sacrificing the confidentiality that characterizes all international negotiations. Congress should see granting TPA as the best way to defend and even strengthen already high US product safety, environmental, and labor standards in a fast-changing global economy. Multilateral trade agreements are an unmatched vehicle for promoting rules that reflect our democratic values: the United States needs to be in the driver’s seat.

TPP's potential benefits for the United States are monumental. As we embark further into America's Pacific age, and in tandem with Latin American partners, TPP has the unmatched possibility to serve as the foundation for cooperation around the Pacific Rim. Neither American business nor American national security can afford to miss this opportunity.

Marczak is deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center. Workman is associate director of the Atlantic Council’s Global Business and Economics Program. The Atlantic Council recently published a report titled “Bridging the Pacific: The Americas’ New Economic Frontier?.”

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