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Tuesday, December 10th, 2019

Malcolm Turnbull's department head warns against Donald Trump's 'short-term domestic focus'

by November 16, 2016 General
Former trade minister Andrew Robb signed the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) in February this year. Photo: Fiona Goodall

Former trade minister Andrew Robb signed the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) in February this year. Photo: Fiona Goodall

Australia’s most senior public servant, Martin Parkinson, has taken a veiled swipe at the short-sightedness of Donald Trump’s pledge to tear up the Trans-Pacific Partnership and scale back the United States’ economic leadership in Asia.

Dr Parkinson, who heads the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, said the model of US “economic diplomacy” remains the “right bet for our region” despite the nationalistic instincts and policy positions of the incoming President.

“Allowing a short-term domestic focus to be the only prism through which policy is made surely risks the gains the US has made in our region. Or to put it another way, there is a clear external dimension to any commitment to ‘make America great again’,” Mr Parkinson told a gathering of the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia in Sydney on Wednesday.

“There is clearly a need for the US to be increasingly strategic and agile in our region and to resist the temptation to focus on short-term expediency.”

He said there was only one country – China – that could fill the breach if the US retreats from Asia.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull remains committed to the TPP but it appears to be as good as dead after the Obama administration walked away from plans to put it before the “lame duck” session of Congress before Mr Trump’s inauguration.

It has been signed by each of the member countries – Australia, the US, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Vietnam – but ratified by none.

Mr Trump made opposing the TPP a key part of his election campaign, saying America did “not need to enter into another massive international agreement that ties us up and binds us down”.

Dr Parkinson described the TPP, which took eight years of negotiations, as “more than a trade deal”.

“It is a sign of US strategic commitment to our region.  US Secretary of Defence Ash Carter said the TPP is worth an ‘additional aircraft carrier’ as a sign of strategic commitment,” he said.

“We don’t know the ultimate outcome of US deliberations on the TPP, but we do know that we have all benefited from the US inclination over decades for international rules over the exercise of arbitrary power.”

Dr Parkinson said US economic diplomacy “effectively underwrote the massive explosion of regional incomes from Japan, to the Asian Tigers of South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore” in decades past, was still immensely important to Asia and Australia.

“US economic diplomacy has been very important for the growth, security and stability in our region. And despite some shortcomings at times in the way it may have been implemented, in my view, the model of US economic diplomacy is still the right bet for our region,” he said.

“Without a doubt, developments during President-elect Trump’s term will have a lasting impact on how the US does business in this region.”

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