A zom­bie pact with few ben­e­fits

The re­vised TPP-11 will still re­main a cor­po­rate-driven trade deal that will be mean­ing­less to most cit­i­zens in mem­ber coun­tries.

The Star Malaysia - - Views - news­desk@thes­tar.com.my M. Veera Pandiyan Me­dia con­sul­tant M. Veera Pandiyan likes this Span­ish proverb: Bet­ter a friendly re­fusal than an un­will­ing con­sent.

CAN dead crea­tures be re­vived? They can’t, but they surely can ap­pear to be, if only for a while.

In Hako­date in Hokkaido, Ja­pan, there is a fa­mous dish called Katsu ika odori-don, which lit­er­ally means “danc­ing squid rice bowl”.

The bowl is filled with rice and an as­sort­ment of meats and veg­eta­bles, topped by a freshly killed squid – mi­nus its man­tle or body, leav­ing only a stump and ten­ta­cles.

This is not a dish for the squea­mish or those who can’t stom­ach an­i­mal cru­elty. Af­ter serv­ing, the chef splashes soy sauce over the cut­tle­fish, caus­ing it to “come alive” and wrig­gle around on top of the bowl.

Din­ers who are amused by the “danc­ing squid” have no prob­lems bit­ing and chew­ing the ten­ta­cles, even while they are still squirm­ing.

But how does it move, even af­ter the brain and body is re­moved?

The cephalo­pod’s cells con­tain adeno­sine triphos­phate (ATP), a com­pound com­pris­ing an adeno­sine mol­e­cule bonded to three phos­phate groups present in liv­ing tis­sues. The break of one link­age leads to mus­cu­lar con­trac­tions and ex­pan­sions.

ATP needs elec­tri­cal im­pulses from the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem to be ac­ti­vated and with­out a func­tion­ing brain, it lies dor­mant and even­tu­ally breaks down.

But sodium chlo­ride (salt) and potas­sium can also trig­ger the process.

So, like magic, a few dashes of soy sauce which con­tains the ions of both el­e­ments can make a dead squid “dance”, al­beit briefly.

Let’s look at an­other crea­ture which took 10 years to grow be­fore it was swiftly slain by a new head chef, but has been re­vived for the mo­ment.

I’m re­fer­ring to the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship (TPP), which evolved into the TPP-11 af­ter the United States with­drew. It has since been re­branded as the Com­pre­hen­sive and Pro­gres­sive Agree­ment for Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship (CPATTP).

It may be a bizarre com­par­i­son, but a cephalo­pod is a crea­ture which has its “legs” at­tached to its head. In Greek, it means “head-footed” – as in the “feet” or ten­ta­cles are at­tached to the head rather than the body.

When US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump signed an ex­ec­u­tive or­der to for­mally quit the orig­i­nal 12-na­tion pact cov­er­ing nearly two-fifths of the global econ­omy, it looked dead in the wa­ter.

Sym­bol­i­cally, TPP was a head­less crea­ture with­out the US. How­ever, Ja­pan took the ini­tia­tive to re­vive the agree­ment, sup­ported by Aus­tralia.

De­spite the rhetoric and lofty ideals, the orig­i­nal TPP was geared at con­tain­ing China and rewrit­ing the rules of global trade as de­ter- mined by the US and pow­er­ful cor­po­rate lob­by­ists in Washington.

Mi­nus the US, it was just an­other pact aimed at coun­ter­ing China’s eco­nomic in­flu­ence pro­moted through Asean’s Re­gional Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship (RCEP) ini­tia­tive.

When Canada threw a span­ner in the works on the side­lines of the Asia-Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion (Apec) fo­rum in Viet­nam last Fri­day, it surely looked like the sec­ond col­lapse of the deal.

Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau failed to show up for a meet­ing with the other 10 lead­ers for the much-an­tic­i­pated sign­ing of the re­vised pact sans the US.

But af­ter a lot of spite and undiplo­matic lan­guage against Canada, the TPP arose from death, yet again.

Trudeau ad­mit­ted some progress on the deal’s frame­work but said more work was needed.

Trade min­is­ters of the 11 coun­tries is­sued a state­ment on Satur­day claim­ing the “core el­e­ments” of the CPATPP had been agreed upon.

They sus­pended 20 clauses in the orig­i­nal text, which were in­cluded at the in­sis­tence of Washington in ex­change for ac­cess to the US mar­ket.

Eleven were on in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights, one of the key con­tentious ar­eas, cov­er­ing both patent and copy­right pe­ri­ods.

Un­der the ini­tial deal, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies could keep their for­mu­las se­cret for 12 years, but this was later re­duced to be­tween five and seven years.

This does not change the fact that poorer peo­ple in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries would not have ac­cess to some drugs dur­ing the pe­riod.

An­other prickly point is the special rights given to for­eign in­vestors to by­pass national courts and sue gov­ern­ments in international tri­bunals un­der the In­vestor-State Dis­pute Set­tle­ment (ISDS) mech­a­nism.

It is no se­cret that the more than 6,000 pages of text un­der the 30 chap­ters con­tain legalese that ob­scures their mean­ing and makes it dif­fi­cult for or­di­nary peo­ple to un­der­stand.

Af­ter the lat­est sal­vage, Viet­nam’s trade min­is­ter Tran Tuan Anh said the ne­go­tia­tors had reached con­sen­sus on “a num­ber of fun­da­men­tal parts” while his Ja­panese coun­ter­part Toshim­itsu Motegi said the dif­fer­ences had been “nar­rowed down”.

But lit­tle has been said to dis­pute the per­cep­tion that the main ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the TPP are giant multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions and rich in­vestors.

To put it briefly, for most of its mem­bers, the costs of be­ing in the zom­bie pact out­weigh its ben­e­fits.

As prom­i­nent econ­o­mist Jomo Kwame Sun­daram (who served as as­sis­tant sec­re­tary-gen­eral for Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment at the United Na­tions) noted, mem­ber­ship pro­vides very lit­tle gain to Malaysia in terms of likely trade growth.

He said the pro-TPP re­ports com­mis­sioned by the Gov­ern­ment were mainly premised on ac­cess to the US mar­ket, which was no longer on of­fer. In­stead, oner­ous as­pects, such as en­hanced in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights and ISDS, re­main – threat­en­ing national and pub­lic in­ter­est.

To use an old English phrase, the CPATTP is a damp squib – a thing that fails to sat­isfy ex­pec­ta­tions, an anti-cli­max to what was touted.

The min­ing term for a dud ex­plo­sive is of­ten mis­pro­nounced as “damp squid”.

In the case of TPP-11, which has been ren­dered mean­ing­less with­out US par­tic­i­pa­tion, both de­scrip­tions fit.

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