China may negotiate entry into TPP once it is confirmed by U.S. Congress: legal scholar

November 14, 2015

TEHRAN – On October 5 the U.S. and 11 other countries around the Pacific reached a historic accord, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, to lower trade barriers to goods and services and set commercial rules of the road for two-fifths of the global economy.

Some argue that the TPP will create an economic bloc to challenge China’s influence in the region. However, Larry Catá Backer, a Cuban-American legal scholar and professor of law and international affairs, says China might join the trade bloc once it is approved by the U.S. Congress.

“I would not be surprised to see China negotiating entry into TPP once it is adopted in the U.S.,” Backer tells the Tehran Times.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said on Thursday that the Obama administration will work with Congress on the best time to bring the 12-nation Pacific trade pact before lawmakers for a vote.

According to the Wall Street Journal, President Barack Obama also said the TPP would strengthen U.S. relationship with partners and allies in a key region.

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: It seems that Washington is attempting to spread out economic liberalism in Asian countries by singing TPP with 11 Asian countries. What do you think?

A: The question suggests the viewpoint of many people, and certainly of many media outlets across the world. I suspect that the answer is more complicated. TPP, along with its European sister TTIP, might as easily be understood as a means through which the United States, along with its partners, will continue to expand the scope of economic integration within the logic of globalization the parameters of which were established in the last decades of the last century. Recall that the U.S. has been attempting variations of this model in Latin America (the Free Trade Area of the Americas) and others.  It would be incorrect to see this as a U.S. attempt, though.  The structures of globalization have proven valuable for most of the members of TPP.  So the effort must be understood as joint one, and one, in the short run, that will potentially reduce the cost of intra-TPP trade. 

Q: President Obama recently said TPP means that this is the U.S. that will determine the rules of road in the 21st century. What is your assessment?

A: That statement is true enough though of limited utility apart from its propaganda value in the hands of states and others whose interests are adverse to those of the United States.  It is a shorthand expression for a more interesting development.  One might argue that with TPP and TTIP the United States and its partners will be determining the rules of the road.  That would effectively shift the power over the further development of the rules of international trade from organs like the WTO. And indeed what is likely to have happened is that the blocking of progress through WTO made more contentious by BRIC states might now be overcome by an alliance of states whose mutual interests converge in these trade frameworks.

Q: Obama also said if the U.S. doesn’t implement TPP and doesn’t determine the rules, China will do it. Does this mean that one of the U.S. goals behind the treaty is to contain China?

A: My translation of that statement is this:  The U.S: and China have to some extent quite distinct views on the nature and participation of states and state enterprises in private markets.  The U.S.’s views have come to be increasingly shared by Europe and many developing states (as they have embraced privatization).  The problem is not merely about trade advantages through the legal and economic subsidies that state enterprises might enjoy (though that is a big part of the issues that separate the U.S. and China).  It is also an ideological issue about the framework of globalized economic activity--grounded in the role of the state in private markets.  And thus the issue is not political (though there are political benefits), but economic and ideological. For all that, some in China might see the effort as a form of containment.  But others in the U.S. and China might view the shape of events as negotiating moves that will eventually produce a relationship between China and (or in) TPP.  I would not be surprised to see China negotiating entry into TPP once it is adopted in the U.S.

Q: Can TPP create a new situation so that we see a new alignment in the region, especially one between by China and Russia?

A: In the short term there are political benefits for China and Russia.  More, I think for China whose efforts to forge a new Silk Road Alliance might be aided by their ability to exploit the propaganda campaigns against TPP. But in the long run Chinese and Russian interests are adverse--in South Asia, in Siberia and elsewhere.