The Trans-Pacific Partnership was intended to be a gold-standard free trade agreement that would exhibit America's leadership of the globalising world. Hence it appeared that the TPP would die a natural death when US President Donald Trump withdrew his country, the world's largest economy, from the 12-nation grouping. However, the future of globalisation does not depend on the domestic political cycles of the United States, no matter how powerful it may be. Japan has rubbed in that point by taking on the globalising mantle cast off so hastily and ill-advisedly by America. Japan is eminently qualified to play this role: It accounts for nearly half the total gross domestic product of TPP members after the US withdrawal.
Japan's role of rescuer came to the fore during a meeting of the TPP's remaining signatories in Toronto earlier this month. Tokyo made it clear that the partnership was not a lost cause merely because of the departure of the US. Australia and New Zealand are among the countries which have thrown their weight behind the overall objectives of what is now an 11-member pact, whose other members are Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
It is understandable that some countries are wary of investing their political energies in the TPP-11 now that they will not have access to the US market through the accord. However, they still can reap the benefits of participation in an agreement that draws on the economic vitality of the Asia-Pacific region. Even the absence of China from the partnership does not deprive the grouping of its usefulness as a platform for like-minded countries to move ahead on free trade. A TPP ministerial meeting, to be held in Vietnam later this month, should help to clarify exactly where the wide-ranging partnership stands on the trajectory of the global economy.
The deliberations in Vietnam will have a bearing on larger issues of economic growth and integration. Such hopes are underlined by a recent report from the Brookings Institution, an American public policy organisation, and the Financial Times newspaper of Britain. It argues that the global recovery from the financial crisis, which hit the world almost a decade ago, has finally become "broad-based and stable". That this stabilisation has occurred despite political uncertainties shows that the only way to survive crises is to learn from the mistakes and excesses that had created them. More work is needed now to sustain the thrust of the underlying forces of change. Globalisation offers countries large and small a chance to tap into reservoirs of economic opportunity created by the international division of labour. Competitive advantage, born of the contribution of special skills and knowledge that nations make to that global effort, will also stand Singapore in good stead in these unsteady times.