Politics, Moderate



Trump left our allies at the altar. Now he's mad they're moving on.

Catherine Rampell on

What a jerk you were to let me dump you.

That's the message the Trump administration is sending to some of our closest allies and most important economic partners. The most recent target is Japan, whom our U.S. ambassador berated last week for not giving us a favorable deal that Japan actually did give us -- before we abruptly ripped it up.

The United States spent eight years negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This 12-country Pacific Rim trade pact was partly designed to build an economic and diplomatic alliance that would keep China, which had been excluded from the deal, in check.

But the United States' objective was also to open up new markets for U.S.-made products, especially U.S. agricultural goods. A 2016 analysis from the International Trade Commission found that agriculture and food would be the U.S. sector that saw the greatest percentage gain in output growth as a result of the TPP.

Greater access to the Japanese market was particularly enticing to U.S. farmers and ranchers. Japan is a wealthy, mature economy -- where high-income consumers can afford high-end U.S. beef and high-quality U.S. grains -- but it's also an economy that has had high barriers to agricultural trade.

And so, as part of the TPP talks, the U.S. trade team spent about a year negotiating one-on-one with Japan about agriculture, with the understanding that whatever concessions the United States won would be granted to the other TPP member countries as well.

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This allowed us to "design the shape of a package that catered to U.S. priorities," explains Darci Vetter, then the chief agricultural negotiator in the office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

Of course, some of these priorities overlapped with those of other TPP countries. Both the United States and New Zealand were eager to sell more dairy and wine to Japan, for instance. Both the United States and Canada wanted Japan to lower tariffs on wheat. Which is why other countries were more than happy to let us push for as many concessions as we could.

Japan determined that the overall pact would be so valuable that it made the politically contentious choice of agreeing to our requests. Incidentally, the agricultural terms we'd negotiated in the TPP also became the template for a trade deal that Japan would separately negotiate with the European Union.

President Barack Obama signed the TPP in 2016. But Congress dragged its feet in ratifying it. Among President Trump's first actions after his inauguration was to pull us out of the deal, with generally incoherent reasons for doing so.


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