Today in Los Cabos, Mexico, at the G-20 summit, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk welcomed Mexico into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an agreement currently under negotiation by nine Pacific nations. Mexico is an obvious and logical country for participation, particularly given the NAFTA relationship with the United States and Canada, and expressed interest in joining last November at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Hawaii. Canada also expressed interest in the TPP at the same time, and will presumably be welcomed in the short term once last minute kinks in the pre-negotiation process are worked out.
Until today, Mexico and Canada were the two remaining APEC nations in the Western Hemisphere outside the TPP negotiations. Having them on board will strengthen the negotiations by bringing significant added economic heft, support increased hemispheric economic integration, and begin to build out a more strategic approach to hemispheric trade relations. In addition, there is no particular reason to believe at this point that the negotiations will be slowed appreciably by Mexico’s participation.
Making the announcement on Mexico today was an important step, given President Felipe Calderón’s hosting of the G-20 as well as the imminent elections in Mexico on July 1. At the same time, it is a signal to other prospective TPP participants that the process is open and welcoming to those nations willing and able to sign on to the high-standards, commercially-meaningful approach that has been set out by the original parties to the discussions. That is a critical incentive to encourage potential TPP nations to make the reforms that will position them to participate in the agreement.
Of course, this is only relevant for nations that would be allowed into the agreement in the first place even if they take such steps. At this point, only current APEC member nations are eligible to join the TPP negotiations. This unnecessarily binds U.S. policy in the Western Hemisphere, because it means that countries like Colombia, which otherwise would appear to be excellent candidates, have little additional incentive to prepare themselves politically or economically to participate in the TPP. That in turn causes nations to seek other partners in order to achieve the same goals. Indeed, we are seeing exactly that phenomenon across Latin America.
As I’ve been writing at least since early 2009, the TPP is the best opportunity to organize a strategic, U.S.-led trade agenda for the Western Hemisphere that is fully consistent with U.S. economic and security interests. It is creative and timely. But it will only be able to achieve its greatest promise if it is ultimately open to all countries in the pan-Pacific region that meet its standards and are politically and economically ready to participate. Getting Mexico and presumably Canada on board is a significant and positive step in this direction. Lifting the APEC restriction should be next.
Eric Farnsworth is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He is vice president of the Council of the Americas in Washington DC.