VISITING US Senator John McCain has urged Australia to “keep at it” in pushing for a revamped Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) while conceding his home country’s withdrawal was a “major strategic mistake”.
Senator McCain made the comments last night when delivering a guest lecture in Sydney, at the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, before an audience of 500 guests including former Australian Prime Ministers Bob Hawke and John Howard.
Senator McCain said, “Yes, America has its problems - and I realise there is much to criticize”.
He said he recognised, for example, how damaging America’s withdrawal from the TPP was.
“To be sure, America’s economic engagement in this region was always bigger than TPP, and that remains true today,” he said.
“But we must always talk straight with each other, my friends: The fact that both American presidential candidates last year opposed TPP, and America’s subsequent withdrawal from it, was a major strategic mistake.
“I know Australia is now talking with Japan and others about moving forward with TPP despite America’s withdrawal.
“I would strongly encourage that.
“The case for an open, rules-based, regional economic architecture is just as compelling today as it ever was.
“So I would urge you to keep at it and hopefully, someday in the future, under different circumstances, America will decide to join you.”
Senator McCain said he realised some of President Trump’s actions and statements had unsettled America’s friends, like Australia, but it also had unsettled many Americans.
He said there was a real debate underway about what kind of role America should play in the world “and frankly, I do not know how this debate will play out”.
“What I do believe - and I do not think I am exaggerating here - is that the future of the world will turn, to a large extent, on how this debate in America is resolved,” he said.
“That is why I and others are fighting so hard to ensure that America stands by our allies and remains an active, principled leader in the world and we cannot do it alone.
“We need your help, my friends.
“Now more than ever, we Americans are counting on Australia and our other allies to stick with us - to encourage us to stay true to who we are at our best - and to remind us always just how much is at stake.”
US farm groups supported the TPP but withdrawing from the 12-nation trade deal was one of the first acts of new President Donald Trump after being inaugurated earlier this year.
The National Farmers’ Federation has described the TPP as being a potentially transformational free trade deal for Australian agriculture, even without the US.
Australian farmers have also welcomed recent moves by Australian Trade Minister Steve Ciobo to engage with the other 10 nations to strike a new revamped deal, despite the US loss.