US trade tsar warns scrapping TPP carries 'serious costs'

US Trade Representative Michael Froman meets with Cuba's Minister of Foreign Trade Rodrigo Malmierca (not pictured) in Havana, Cuba.
US Trade Representative Michael Froman meets with Cuba's Minister of Foreign Trade Rodrigo Malmierca (not pictured) in Havana, Cuba. PHOTO: REUTERS

LIMA(AFP) - US Trade Representative Michael Froman warned of "serious" strategic and economic costs from scrapping a major trans-Pacific trade deal Friday, as proponents lobbied hard to overcome president-elect Donald Trump's opposition.

Acknowledging that the fate of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, or TPP, is now largely out of the Obama administration's hands, Froman indicated he would continue to make the case that the deal is good for America.

"We are obviously at a point in time where this is a legislative process to get TPP through and it's really up to the Congressional leadership to determine if, when and how it's going to move forward," he said. "It's a political decision for them to make." "Our argument is that inaction poses serious costs" he added, citing a recent study suggesting failure would cost the US economy around US$94 billion (S$134 billion) in the first year alone.

Trade deals such as TPP and the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement featured heavily in the brutal US election campaign and many see Trump's victory as a repudiation of ever-deeper commercial ties.

Neither Trump nor his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton supported TPP during the campaign.

Free-trade supporters say the deals were made a scapegoat for the social and economic disruptions caused by automation and other far more potent trends.

"Globalization is a factor in our life, it's not going away," Froman said.

Some are still holding out a flicker of hope that pragmatism will trump the mogul's tough anti-trade rhetoric when he gets to the Oval Office.


The real estate billionaire's inexperience and seemingly divergent policy positions have led many in Washington to treat the president-elect as a blank canvas for their priorities, hoping he can be persuaded of the benefits.

Allies of the president-elect, including some in Congress and Vice President-elect Mike Pence, have voiced support for the deal.

"It's only been ten days since the election," Froman said. "Any new administration needs time to go through the transition process, appoint its people, get briefed up on the state of current policy and to make their decisions about where they want to go from here." Some envisage the reopening of negotiations that would allow Trump to play dealmaker and claim to improve the pact.

Leaders of TPP countries are scheduled to meet in Lima, Peru on Saturday on the margins of an Asia-Pacific summit.

But some signatories are already looking at whether a Chinese-backed trade agreement might be more feasible than the Washington-led deal.

"TPP is obviously not the only game in town," Froman said. "It's a real risk that's playing out in real time." Many believe a successful Chinese pact would strike major blow to US influence in the fast-rising region.