Why It Matters

No light at end of tunnel for TPP

The landmark Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement has been signed by 12 countries, including Singapore, but its chances of becoming reality are looking extremely bleak.

Although Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton was no supporter of the TPP either, US President-elect Donald Trump's anti-trade rhetoric during his campaign moved TPP closer to death row. He vowed to rip up trade deals and labelled the TPP a disaster.

As a small, open economy highly dependent on trade, Singapore would suffer if Mr Trump keeps his campaign promises and ramps up protectionist measures after he takes office in January. The US was Singapore's fourth largest trading partner, accounting for 8.5 per cent of the city-state's global trade in goods last year.

While Singapore already has a myriad of free trade agreements with many nations, the TPP will open up an even larger market for local firms while lowering tariffs and facilitating investment.

Championed by US President Barack Obama, the TPP also seeks to impose standards in a range of areas, from labour and environmental regulations to the protection of intellectual property.

All the 12 TPP members are from the Asia-Pacific. Together, the member countries account for 40 per cent of global trade.

The TPP, despite being derided as "job-killing" by Mr Trump, holds benefits for US firms. The trade pact will cut over 18,000 tariffs that other countries impose on US exports. This will help level the playing field for US firms and help boost exports. Rising exports in turn spur revenue growth and business expansion, which leads to more jobs for Americans.

Mr Trump's win may seem to herald the end of the TPP but there is a glimmer of hope as he has yet to articulate any further opinions on this since being elected. Japan's Lower House of Parliament in fact went ahead to vote to ratify the TPP yesterday.

Getting the TPP passed would be a major legacy for the US. Its failure would be a blow to free trade.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 12, 2016, with the headline No light at end of tunnel for TPP. Subscribe