TPP has been trumped

Don­ald Trump's first pri­or­ity is to with­draw the US from the Pa­cific Rim mega trade pact—and that's good news

Down to Earth - - LAST WORD -

THE TRANS PA­CIFIC Part­ner­ship (tpp) is dead in the wa­ter. It died ef­fec­tively on Novem­ber 11 when Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic lead­ers in Con­gress cat­e­gor­i­cally told the White House they would not ad­vance it. For Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, it was a ma­jor slap in the face as his am­bi­tious plan to bind Asia and the Pa­cific in one of the big­gest trade agree­ments un­rav­elled. But for the rest of the world and spe­cially for civil so­ci­ety move­ments in the 12 na­tions that com­prise tpp, it was cel­e­bra­tion time be­cause of the re­ced­ing threat of re­stric­tive mea­sures on a host of crit­i­cal eco­nomic and so­cial sec­tors that the mega trade agree­ment would have im­posed.

And on Novem­ber 21 came still sweeter news. Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump made tpp’s roll­back a pri­or­ity as he an­nounced a se­ries of mea­sures that his ad­min­is­tra­tion would take in the first 100 days to “make Amer­ica greaty. The first of th­ese would be a note of in­tent to with­draw from the tpp agree­ment which he de­scribed as “a po­ten­tial dis­as­ter for our coun­try”. He would in­stead “ne­go­ti­ate fair bi­lat­eral trade deals that bring jobs and in­dus­try back”.

That is un­doubt­edly the fi­nal nail in tpp’s cof­fin be­cause the other coun­tries are un­likely to find it worth­while to push ahead with the deal with­out the US. As Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe—who is among its fer­vent cheer­lead­ers—ad­mits, tpp would be “mean­ing­less” mi­nus the US. For the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, it is a hu­mil­i­at­ing de­feat given that tpp was a top pri­or­ity for it. Since tpp was signed in Fe­bru­ary 2016, the White House has been lob­by­ing re­lent­lessly for it, with Obama even mak­ing it part of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cam­paign.

The sigh of re­lief which was pal­pa­ble after the set­back in Con­gress should have turned into a loud cheer after Trump’s prom­ise that was car­ried in a brief clip posted on YouTube. Why we did not hear those shouts of ap­proval is that most lib­er­als do not like the in­com­ing pres­i­dent and his agenda—and ad­mit­tedly for per­fectly valid rea­sons. Yet, for an­other lot of lib­er­als who look at Trump from a global as­pect, he spells hope, not least be­cause he is anti-war. That he is against mega trade blocs, too, is an­other point in his favour.

Civil so­ci­ety move­ments across Asia, Latin Amer­ica, Ocea­nia, and North Amer­ica that have come to fight tpp for over seven years, say the agree­ment would have “ex­panded cor­po­rate power to de­stroy peo­ples’ liveli­hoods, un­der­mine hu­man rights and the en­vi­ron­ment, threaten fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity, in­crease the cost of lifesaving medicines and at­tack health and other pro-peo­ple safe­guards”.

The un­der­ly­ing rea­son is that tpp is not about free trade but the re­verse: a sharp in­crease in pro­tec­tion­ism by way of stronger and longer patent and copyright pro­tec­tion. This kind of pro­tec­tion­ism, which strives to en­force stan­dards higher than that re­quired by wto rules, is aimed at help­ing multi­na­tion­als in­crease prof­its. This would be sig­nif­i­cant in the case of prod­ucts such as medicines and soft­ware. The big­ger threat from tpp is that it would have be­come the blue­print for other such trade pacts. A dead give­away is the fol­low­ing statis­tic: the gain for the US is just 0.23 per cent of gdp.

In­dia is not likely to re­spond to the demise of tpp. For a coun­try that was not part of the pact but was threat­ened by it, the re­lief is cer­tainly im­mense. Al­though con­claves have been held on the im­pact of tpp on In­dia’s trade, there was lit­tle it could do to op­pose it. The big­gest worry was the im­pact it would have on the generic medicines in­dus­try and the un­der­min­ing of pub­lic health. For the time though, the Modi gov­ern­ment’s cheers for Trump will have to be muted.

TARIQUE AZIZ / CSE

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