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There are now reports that the parties to the Trans-Pacific Partnership will formally sign the deal on February 4 in New Zealand, and President Obama is expected to make a push for congressional ratification in his State of the Union address. I’ve written here and here about some of the elements in the TPP that are positive steps forward in US trade policy, and others that raise concerns, particularly as they affect developing countries. I’ve also written in our White House and the World series about how US trade policy could be more development-friendly overall. One particular concern with the TPP that President Obama could address without reopening negotiations is the negative impact on other poor countries in the region. He would need Congress’ help, however.
Vietnam is a major clothing exporter to the United States and will, eventually, get duty-free access to the US market under TPP (albeit with strict rules of origin). Vietnam is by far the poorest country joining the TPP, and improved access for a major export will help create jobs and reduce poverty in that country. But that shouldn’t, and needn’t, come at the expense of other poor countries in the region, notably Bangladesh and Cambodia. All the other high income countries already provide duty-free, quota-free market access on most or all products for the UN-designated least developed countries, including clothing exports from Bangladesh and Cambodia. The United States is the only hold-out, and now is probably the last chance to act.
So, when President Obama pushes for Congress to ratify the TPP sometime this year in his speech, I hope he also asks Congress to join with the rest of the developed world and extend duty-free, quota-free market access to the world’s poorest countries as part of the package.