LIMA, PERU - U.S. President Barack Obama arrives in Peru on Friday for his final Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ meeting, but his presence will be overshadowed by someone who is not scheduled to attend until next year: his successor, President-elect Donald Trump.
Reporters on Thursday queried U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry about whether his counterparts in Lima were expressing concern about protectionism in the United States after Trump's election.
"I haven't heard a word of it yet," Kerry replied at the start of his bilateral meeting with Peruvian Foreign Minister Ricardo Luna. "Everybody is looking forward to building on a good, solid trade relationship, and we had good discussions."
Trump asserted during the campaign that the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was a “death blow” and a “rape of our country.”
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Trump’s surprise election November 8 destroyed any chance for the Congress this year to take up the trade pact, and there is no indication the next administration would favor its ratification.
“TPP is certainly dead for now,” said Deborah Elms, executive director of the Asian Trade Center in Singapore.
Helping US workers
Elms, a TPP proponent, told VOA she wished Trump would see there is no better option for helping American workers than the 12-nation deal and that “killing the TPP means handing an early victory to China.”
However the president-elect “is picking people like him who see the world as win-lose and who genuinely believe that trade agreements are why the U.S. runs a trade deficit,” Elms added. “You can't reason with such people.”
TPP supporters hoped that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who held his initial meeting with Trump on Thursday, could change the mind of the U.S. president-elect.
The conversation with Trump in New York was candid in a "warm atmosphere" and the two agreed to meet again for "wider and deeper talks," Abe said.
House before that meeting, Kerry met with his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida, in Lima.
Kerry and Kishida discussed “a full range of bilateral, regional and global issues, including DPRK, climate change and the importance of implementing the Paris Agreement, and trade,” State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.
For TPP to become a reality under the terms of the agreement, it must be ratified by Japan, the United States and four other countries.
China in 'driver's seat'
If TPP is buried, then “China gets into the driver's seat in a way that they have not been before,” Elms predicted.
APEC summit host Peru has already started talks with the Chinese about joining Beijing’s regional trade pact while clinging to hope Trump will change his mind.
“We'll have to see how ambitious the pact is,” Peru Trade Minister Eduardo Ferreyros said of China’s Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). “Even if it's not as deep as other agreements, we'll still participate.”
Seven TPP countries are members of RCEP, which excludes the United States.
Earlier in the week, Kerry told VOA and Reuters he was “not concerned at all” about China pushing its own economic agreements at the Lima meeting.
“If China has a good idea, we should look at China’s good idea and see whether or not it makes sense for us, too,” Kerry said. “There’s no exclusivity here as far as I’m concerned, speaking for myself.”
Continued U.S. role seen
A senior administration official told VOA on Thursday that despite the setback with TPP, "it's just not in the realm of possibility the United States does not continue to play a significant and proactive role in guaranteeing security and prosperity in the region."
However, Obama administration officials as well as Asian leaders, such as Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, have previously tied TPP's approval in Washington to America's regional security leadership and its credibility.
"It's just a matter of finding out how the incoming administration wants to pursue executing on those broad national goals," the senior U.S. official said. "There will be variations in the approach to how they seek to achieve them, and we'll work with the incoming administration to help them get that done."