U.S. presidential and congressional candidates may be falling over themselves to disavow the freshly negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but the trade deal isn't dead, John Negroponte, a storied former U.S. diplomat told the Credit Suisse Megatrends conference in Singapore Thursday.
The TPP is a trade and investment agreement among Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the U.S. and Vietnam. The accord includes several policies that would make trade and investment run more smoothly between Pacific countries — key among them is lowering tariffs.
"Trade is a politically tragic issue in our country and it has to do with globalization and this sort of apprehension in the minds of people that somehow jobs are being lost as a result of globalization. That is not a new preoccupation," Negroponte, who was ambassador to Mexico from 1989-1993 and was involved in the negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), said. That deal was also a political hot potato, with then candidate Ross Perot famously claiming it would result in a "giant sucking sound" as U.S. jobs were sent to Mexico.
But Negroponte, who served multiple administrations over his more than 40-year career as a diplomat, said the rhetoric was more pronounced this time around.
Despite the opposition, Negroponte still expects the deal to be ratified.
"We have a window in the lame duck after our elections and before the new congress takes office for getting the TPP ratified. I think we have a good chance of getting it done even though there's been a lot of political verbiage surrounding the issues," he said. That period runs from early November through January 20.
"Don't forget all these other trade agreements that have been negotiated by American administrations, despite the controversy that's swirled around them, have ultimately been approved," he noted, adding that this has been the case for the past nine administrations.
He also said the candidate he views as the most likely Republican nominee, Donald Trump, doesn't appear particularly opposed to free trade deals, per se. Indeed, Trump's free use of Chinese manufacturing for his branded products has become a frequent topic of social media scorn.
"Mr. Trump has made it very clear he doesn't think much of any of the free trade agreements we've reached. He seems to be posing the question more in terms of how he thinks he's a better negotiator than anybody who might have preceded him in government. And that he can negotiate much better deals," Negroponte said. "Whether that reflects any understanding of what it's like to be government negotiator I have no idea."
U.S. presidential hopefuls, including Trump and the Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, have spoken against the multilateral TPP as costing U.S. jobs - comments that, a survey by CNBC in March found, had led to the waning of U.S. public support for trade.