Steven Okun, Governor and Chair of the TPP Task Force of the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore (“AmCham”), discusses the progress and importance of the TPP with Jones Day partner Darren Murphy.
Darren Murphy: It would be great if you could explain why AmCham has become so involved with the TPP.
Steven Okun: AmCham represents both American companies and those that do business with and in the United States. AmCham members bring a unique perspective to the TPP debate as we live and work in Asia, so we see first-hand how trade and investment are changing in the region. AmCham strongly supports expanding global trade on a level playing field for businesses and workers. The TPP represents an enormous opportunity for the United States and its companies. The 11 non-U.S. TPP signatories have a combined population of almost 500 million people and a combined economy of more than US$11 trillion, making it the largest combined market for U.S. goods and services in the world. The TPP not only provides greater access to some of the world’s fastest growing markets for U.S. business, but it does so while addressing “behind the border” challenges U.S. businesses now face, as well as environmental and labor issues.
DM: How would the TPP provide access to those markets for U.S. companies?
SO: First, the TPP will open up markets to U.S. manufacturers and service providers by eliminating many tariffs and other barriers that serve to unfairly hinder imports into non-U.S. economies. Industries such as agriculture, automotive, clothing, and technology will see dramatic reductions in tariffs and, therefore, increased opportunities for exporters. In addition, the TPP will provide investment protection, protection of intellectual property rights, and otherwise promote fair competition. In short, the TPP addresses all of the 21st trade century issues business now face—those at the border, across the border, and behind the border.
DM: You mention fair competition; how would the TPP achieve that?
SO: The TPP not only addresses tariffs but also sets rules for doing business within the TPP economies, with the aim of creating a fairer international trading system. It contains rules to level the playing field with state-owned enterprises, respect worker rights, tackle key environmental issues, and address corruption. The TPP does more than address specific trade barriers, it promotes U.S. leadership in the Asia-Pacific region. This is why the TPP is more than an economic benefit to the United States—it is a strategic imperative.
DM: There appears to be an urgency to progress the TPP now; why such a rush?
SO: The U.S. Congress needs to pass the TPP this year. The current position of both parties’ nominees in this year’s U.S. presidential campaign suggests that the next president will not sign the TPP if passed by the next Congress.
An enormous amount of work and compromise—mostly from the other 11 members of the TPP—has gone into having the agreement signed by representatives of the 12 TPP countries. This took political capital to be spent by all the members. Washington, D.C., is not the only national capital in which trade politics are contentious. Abandoning the TPP now would severely limit the United States’ ability to bring the other parties back to the table. They will proceed with their own agreements, both bilateral and multilateral, which will not include the United States.
DM: How is AmCham seeking to support the passage of the TPP?
SO: AmCham has formed a TPP Task Force with dozens of members. The Task Force advocates for the passage of the TPP based upon its economic and strategic importance to AmCham members overall. To avoid replicating member activities elsewhere, the focus of AmCham’s Task Force is to leverage the local and regional perspectives of its members to highlight evidence and anecdotes from the eyes and ears of the business community on the ground in the region. AmCham Singapore meets with U.S. government officials from both the executive branch and Congress on their visits to Singapore to give them the first-hand perspective of what is happening in the region. It also is working with the U.S. Chamber and the other AmChams in the region to find out how best AmCham and its members can provide information on the capacity-building needed for the other TPP members, as well as to provide a framework to ensure accountability in the implementation of the TPP when that happens.
DM: What could others do to support AmCham in these efforts?
SO: Advocacy for the TPP requires a multilateral engagement strategy. AmCham looks for any way to ensure that the message of what is happening in the region is understood by those in the United States. Trade liberalization will move forward, with or without the United States. “Singapore fervently hopes that the U.S. will stay engaged and maintain its indispensable role in the Asia Pacific. In particular, we hope—and I’m sure the President shares this hope—that Congress will ratify the TPP soon,” Singapore Prime Minister Lee said on his recent state visit to the United States. AmCham agrees completely.