The Road Ahead for TPP
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
As prepared for delivery
Good afternoon. Thank you to Ambassador Huntsman, Ambassador Gray, and the Atlantic Council for hosting. On Deputy Secretary Blinken’s behalf, let me apologize for the “bait and switch”.
But I think I can offer some ground truth on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
When President Obama came to office in January 2009, the White House was pretty thinly staffed.
At the high end was a distinguished Harvard Law Review brilliant trade lawyer... the Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economics... Mike Froman. At the other end of the spectrum was me… a State Department Asia Bureau loaner.
What brought us together, virtually from day one, was the new President's strong sense of mission. His mission was to resuscitate the American economy – not only to pull it out of the “ditch” but to put it on the right track.
His conviction was that U.S. foreign policy needed to advance U.S. economic and strategic interests. He recognized that America is a Pacific nation, and that the Asia-Pacific region was emerging as the driver of global economic growth.
So he undertook to rebalance America's international engagement. He made the dynamic Asia-Pacific region a strategic priority.
In political and diplomatic terms, that meant joining the East Asia Summit, establishing a dialogue with 10 ASEAN leaders, meeting bilaterally with individual leaders, and traveling to both Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia in his first year in office.
In security terms, that meant pivoting away from an exclusive focus on the Middle East. The President quickly strengthened alliances with Japan, Korea, and Australia, hosting the leaders of those three allies in the Oval Office in his first few months. As a result of the efforts he directed, we had modernized and revitalized our Pacific alliances by 2011.
In people-to-people and cultural terms, we launched the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, promoted extensive educational exchange, launched the “100,000 Strong” Chinese language training initiative, and found other new ways to tap into the youthful demographics of Asia.
And in economic and trade terms, the President set high standards and then unleased the mighty Froman – first to conclude the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, and then to negotiate the TPP.
There's a phrase I learned from a former boss and master of diplomacy, Tom Pickering: “you want it bad, you get it bad.” President Obama and Mike wanted TPP, but they wanted it good. That's why it took time. It was worth waiting for. It was worth fighting for.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is the economic component and the crown jewel of the rebalance. Why? Partly for the reasons that Mike laid out. But also for broader strategic reasons. It anchors us to a region that is vital to our security and our national well-being. And it is received in the region as a proof point that America will continue to lead; that we are in the Asia-Pacific region to stay.
Now, at the end of the day, what is America’s great strength? Why did Secretary Carter say that, “TPP is as important to me as another aircraft carrier”?
Because countries in the Asia-Pacific region want what we have: Innovation. Entrepreneurship. Intellectual property rights. An open Internet. An information economy. Environmental standards. Good governance. Labor rights. Collective bargaining. Transparency. Fairness. Opportunity. Resilience.
As Mike said, TPP has already shown a magnetic effect. There's a reason that a number of countries have said, “We’re going to want in on TPP”.
It’s a cutting-edge agreement championed by a nation – the US – that other countries trust and emulate.
It strengthens the “rules-based order,” and that’s not just a catch-phrase. It’s the practical application of the principle of fairness. It’s central to the security and stability that we and the nations around the Pacific Rim all need.
Leadership is not telling others what to do. Leadership is showing others what you are going to do, explaining why you are doing it, and making them want to join you.
That’s what the President and his team have done. Kudos to Mike Froman.