Vietnam to ratify TPP as US loses enthusiasm

Vietnam would be obliged to allow free trade unions despite its misgivings about labour unrest such as this strike in 2015. Picture courtesy Mywork.com.vn

Vietnam would be obliged to allow free trade unions despite its misgivings about labour unrest such as this strike in 2015. Picture courtesy Mywork.com.vn

Vietnam has announced plans to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership next month, showing an enthusiasm for the trade agreement that is no longer matched in the United States.

Vietnam is seen as the big winner from the TPP deal – its low wage economy set to become a magnet for manufacturers seeking open access to the US and Japanese markets.

But hopes are fading that President Obama will be able to secure ratification in the US this year, given the wave of anti- free trade sentiment generated during the presidential election campaign.

Vietnam can only press on regardless – the rising protectionist tide in the US underlining to a once sceptical Communist party establishment how much it has to lose if the deal falls through.

The TPP is set to be ratified during the next session of the rubber stamp National Assembly that begins on July 20.

Sincerity in doubt

The pact includes labour and environmental clauses – including an agreement to allow free trade unions – that once appeared onerous to Communist party stalwarts.

But the prospect of losing the economic benefits of the pact, including a substantial boost to GDP and a significant advantage over its competitors in Southeast Asia, China and beyond, will have concentrated minds in even the most conservative corners of the party.

For all that, some remain sceptical about the sincerity of Vietnam’s commitment to allow the formation of truly free and independent trade unions.

Under the terms of bilateral clauses with the US, incorporated into the TPP, it would be required to permit the formation of workplace unions immediately, and nationwide federations within five years.

In a recent speech the US ambassador to Vietnam, Ted Osius, expressed optimism that Vietnam would eventually meet its obligations should the TPP go into effect.

“I don’t think the process will be easy, but I think the political will is absolutely there to complying fully with what Vietnam agreed to in TPP, especially on the labour provisions,” he said in comments at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

All now hangs on the outcome of the US presidential election.

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have ridden the wave of the protectionist backlash, and even Hillary Clinton, hitherto a champion of free trade deals, has expressed doubts about the deal.

Hopes that President Obama would be able to achieve ratification in the period between the election and the swearing in of his successor are now seen as optimistic.

The best that Vietnam can hope for is that a President Clinton would agree a largely cosmetic renegotiation, on the back of a landslide victory, and that she rediscovers her enthusiasm for trade deals on the coattails of an anti Trump backlash.