The Asia Society Policy Institute on Sept. 30 issued a 31-page report exploring four potential options under which the United States could explore reentering what now is an 11-country Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) trade accord.
Authored by former acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler, the report is a product of her visits with a dozen current and former trade officials from across the Asia-Pacific region, during which she explored whether, under what conditions, their countries would be receptive to U.S. reentry into the CPTTP. The options presented by Cutler include: 1) rejoining the original Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), from which President Trump withdrew the United States during his first week in office; 2) acceding to the CPTPP (the successor to the TPP); 3) renegotiating the CPTPP to reflect new U.S. priorities; or 4) pursuing a more incremental approach that begins with negotiating sectoral agreements with countries in the region.
Cutler, who currently serves as vice president of the Asia Policy Institute, recommended that the United States pursue a “hybrid approach” that she said had the best chance of success if the next U.S. administration decides to reengage. Under such a “hybrid approach,” the United States would seek to accede to the CPTPP and select a finite number of top-priority issues that it would seek to renegotiate or eliminate from the trade pact. As a “first and immediate step,” Cutler recommended pursuing a limited, sector-specific regional Asia-Pacific trade agreement with CPTPP-member countries and other interested regional partners (such as South Korea) to “set high standards, rebuild trust and build momentum.” She identified digital trade, trade in medical and other essential products, and the linkage between trade and the environment/climate as three prime possibilities for sector-specific negotiations.
Cutler acknowledged that rejoining TPP is “not something either (presidential) candidate is talking about.” But she argued it still makes sense for the United States from an economic and national security perspective to join with other countries in the fast-growing Asia-Pacific region to provide an alternative to China’s state-led economic growth model. “…[R]ejoining the CPTPP is one of the most impactful ways in which the United States can work with like-minded countries in the region to promote an alternative economic model to state-led capitalism and help shape the economic future of a region that is increasingly the engine of global growth and innovation,” Cutler wrote.