The President is continuing his final world tour to
take selfies at the Parthenon conduct Foreign Affairs business and he’s been meeting with some of the members of the now essentially deceased Trans Pacific Partnership. (One suggestion might be to change the name to “Pacific Wide Partnership” because when you put “Trans” in the name of anything you’re going to attract massive trolling.) On Sunday morning he sat down for a chat with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who apparently sees some glimmer of hope for the deal, or at least something which vaguely resembles it. (The Australian)
Malcolm Turnbull has held his first meeting with world leaders including Barack Obama on how to rescue the $27 trillion Trans Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, in the face of a Trump administration that had vowed to tear it up.
The Prime Minister has also held sideline talks with Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak on the first day of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ summit Peru in which they discussed asylum seekers.
Mr Turnbull refused to confirm whether Australia was on the brink of a deal to resettle asylum seekers on Naru and Manus Island to Malaysia, following the US agreement to accept those regarded as genuine refugees.
There are a couple of pieces to this news story which are only tangentially related. Part of the discussion focused on the recent revelation that the United States agreed to take some refugees from Syria, Iraq and other sources off of Australia’s hands. (They’re currently being held in camps on islands off of Australia’s coast.) That’s a deal which was rubber stamped by Obama, but there’s no word as to whether or not that agreement will hold up under the President Elect’s review.
The other, more widely examined conversation focused on the TPP. It sounds as if the proposal is completely dead once Trump is sworn in, but Turnbull is not without hope.
Mr Turnbull told reporters that “free trade is a long game”.
“There have been other American administrations, both in terms of the Presidency and in terms of the Congress that have changed their mind,” he said.
“Barack Obama was not a supporter of the TPP when he became elected and he’s leaving office as one of its greatest advocates.
Turnbull makes a fair point when he goes on to say that Trump, “never said he was against free trade, just deals that weren’t in America’s interests.” We should give credit to the Prime Minister for actually paying more attention to the campaign than most of the American mainstream media. Trump isn’t against trade deals and I’ve yet to see a single case where he said so. What he was consistent on all along was that he was against bad trade deals. I suppose it’s not impossible that he might return to the table next year and see if there’s something better for American interests which could be salvaged.
So returning to the original question in this article, is President Obama trying to find some way to rescue TPP at the last minute? No… he’s not that blind to reality. Congress isn’t going to touch it in the lame duck session and the appetite for it has faded as the realization has dawned on the members of Congress that the people aren’t buying it. And that’s true among large numbers of Trump voters as well as union workers and other Democrats. Still, the relationship between Trump and Turnbull will be one to watch. He’s been referred to as “Australia’s Donald Trump” in the past. With both of them in office we’ll find out whether or not opposites attract and like charges repel.