Washington — Several departing US ambassadors in Asia, including Caroline Kennedy, urged Congress to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) "before the window for doing so closes," saying that a failure to adopt the free-trade deal would cede leadership to China in the region and hurt American workers.
"Walking away from TPP may be seen by future generations as the moment America chose to cede leadership to others in this part of the world and accept a diminished role," the ambassadors wrote in a letter. "Such an outcome would be cause for celebration among those who favour ‘Asia for the Asians’ and state capitalism."
The letter was a last-ditch and largely symbolic plea from the diplomats for lawmakers to buck sentiment aired during the presidential election that the 12-nation pact, which once had strong support and seemed destined for passage, was bad for the US economy.
During the campaign, Donald Trump called the deal bad for the US and vowed to walk away from it on his first day in office. His Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton abandoned it as well.
The letter was signed by six ambassadors to the region, including former Senator Max Baucus, the ambassador to China; Kennedy, the US ambassador to Japan; and the top US diplomats in Singapore, Korea, New Zealand and at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Baucus’s successor has already been announced and the rest, political appointees named by President Barack Obama, will all be replaced after Trump takes office.
By abandoning the TPP, the US would undermine its credibility as both a trade partner and a leader, the envoys wrote: "It would be disastrous for supporters of inclusive politics, rule of law, and market economics — and for US national interests".
China is working on its own regional trade agreement, which the ambassadors said would "serve as the template for economic integration in Asia and result in higher tariffs for the US". The ambassadors argue that commitments other countries make under the TPP would offer an advantage to the US and raise standards, while not approving it would "present new competitive disadvantages in the region".