US Domestic Politics and America's Withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership: Implications for Southeast Asia
- Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of International and Strategic Affairs
- ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
- Volume 40, Number 1, April 2018
- pp. 50-76
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The Trump administration's decision to withdraw from the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) agreement has damaged America's political standing in the Asia Pacific and reinforced concerns that Washington is not committed to the maintenance of regional stability. This article examines the reasons for the Trump administration's decision and evaluates the likelihood of America entering a new multilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with the Asia Pacific. For the foreseeable future this is unlikely. Understanding why requires a careful examination of the forces shaping US domestic politics. In America, FTAs have become powerful symbols of US economic inequality to both the political left and right. However, the real causes of economic inequality are structural economic changes and America's unwillingness to implement the social welfare programmes needed to alleviate their effects. The US resistance to government-provided social welfare is rooted in the ideological, racial and socio-economic structures of American society. Thus, effectively addressing economic inequality will be difficult and the subject of considerable strife within American domestic politics. This article argues that so long as FTAs serve as convenient political scapegoats for deep-seated characteristics of the American state, the United States will not enter into such economic agreements. The article goes on to examine how Southeast Asia may be affected by the particular set of political forces in America that led to its withdrawal from the TPP. The Trump administration is hostile to multilateral institutions, which harms cooperative regional relations and accelerates America's decline in the Asia Pacific.