The Economist: The TPP is Dead

Leith van Onselen at MacroBusiness tells us:

The chief economist of The Economist magazine, Simon Baptist, believes that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal is dead following the failure of final round negotiations in Hawaii last week. Here’s Baptist’s latest commentary on the TPP from his latest email newsletter:

The latest talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) did not end well and election timetables in Canada and the US mean that the prospect of a deal being ratified before the end of 2016 (at the earliest) is remote. The usual problem of agricultural markets was prominent, headlined by Canada’s refusal to open its dairy sector. For New Zealand—one of the four founder countries of the TPP, along with Brunei, Chile and Singapore—this was a non-negotiable issue. Dairy was not the only problem. As usual, Japan was worried about cars and rice, and the US about patent protection for its pharma companies.

The TPP was probably doomed when the US joined, and certainly when Japan did. It then became more of a political project than an economic one. Big trade agreements had hitherto focused on physical goods, while the TPP had an aim of forging rules of trade beyond this in intellectual property, investment and services. China was a notable absence, and the US and Japan, in particular, were keen to set these rules with enough of the global economy behind them such that China would be forced into line later on. For now, the shape of international standards in these areas remains up for grabs. The next step for the TPP, if anything, is whether a smaller group—such as the founding four —will break away and go ahead on their own, with a much smaller share of global GDP involved, and in the hope that others will join later.

Yves here. This conclusion is even more deadly than it seems, particularly coming from a neoliberal organ like the Economist. I have to confess to not reading the Economist much on this topic, precisely because the articles I did see hewed so tightly to party line: that the TPP and its ugly sister, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, were “free trade” deals and therefore of course should be passed, since more “free trade” was always and ever a good thing. In fact, trade is already substantially liberalized, and the further GDP gains that economists could gin up using their models (which have overstated results) were so pathetically small as to amount to rounding error. Accordingly, contacts in DC told us that the business community was not pushing the deal hard: “Multinationals don’t see much benefit to be had from being able to sue Malaysia over environmental regulations.” The corporate support for the TPP in the US was thus much narrower than the cheerleading in the press would have you believe.

The coverage of the TPP in the media was schizophrenic, on the one hand describing it as part of Obama’s “pivot to Asia” (as in an effort to contain China’s growing hegemony), meaning it was clearly a political enterprise, an “everybody but China” deal, and on the other hand, saying that the reason Americans should support it was those miniscule trade benefits. And of course, there was nary a mention of the cost in terms of national sovereignity.

What is intriguing and heartening about the Economist verdict isn’t merely that the TPP is dead. It’s that it’s so dead that for it to be revived, it would have to be in radically different form, with a much smaller group of countries. And if I read the Economist piece correctly, the “founding four” does not include Japan, which joined the negotiations late. Japan’s famously powerful farmers are not likely to sign up for a deal that encroaches on the island nation’s beef and rice lobbies. And it’s hard to see how anyone would take a Pacific political or economic pact all that seriously that did not have China or Japan as members.

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