by Dr. Chandra Muzaffar
Editor’s Note: The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement represents the economic arm of the US pivot to the Asia-Pacific region, and threatens to undermine the sovereignty of participating countries. Washington lacks a fundamental economic vision, and as its influence in the world continues to wane, the TPP is an attempt to harness the growth and dynamism of South East Asia’s tiger cub economies as a counterweight to China’s influence in the region. The trade deal imposes familiar neoliberal policies written by and for the benefit of US multinational conglomerates. As the participating countries prepare to meet for trade negotiations in Malaysia later this month, Dr. Chandra Muzaffar lays out exactly what is at stake for countries who bend to US pressure and sign the TPP.
The proponents of the Trans Pacific Partnership argue that the TPP would bring huge benefits to Malaysia “with as much as US $ 40 billion (RM 128.4 billion) in annual export gains and US $ 25 billion in annual income gains by 2025.” Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in particular will reap a bonanza. The TPP, it is said, will also “give Malaysia preferential access to a US $ 15 trillion economy, which means access to the US $ 500 billion in US government tenders.” As against these projections, there are issues of tremendous significance pertaining to the TPP that have been raised by a variety of citizen groups in almost all the 12 countries (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States and Vietnam) that are currently part of the negotiation process. These issues have emerged as a result of leaks since no officially sanctioned draft has been placed before the public.
The negotiations — the 18th round of which will commence in Kota Kinabalu (Malaysia) on the 15th of July 2013 — are shrouded in secrecy though representatives of major corporations such as Monsanto, Walmart, Bank of America, JP Morgan, Cargill, Exxon-Mobil, and Chevron, among others, it is alleged, have had full access to the draft and have been “suggesting amendments.” One of the issues that has caused grave concern is a set of rules in the TPP which apparently would empower foreign corporations to bypass domestic laws and courts and challenge government policies and regulations aimed at protecting the public interest via tribunals linked to the World Bank and the UN. If this is true, it would be an affront to national sovereignty.
The TPP also prohibits governments and central banks from imposing capital controls or banning risky financial products. Central banks would have diminished capacity to regulate the entry and exit of speculative capital. Countries that are part of the TPP would be compelled to create an even more conducive environment for casino capitalism. Given Malaysia’s relative success in developing regulatory mechanisms during and after the 1998 Asian financial crisis, this aspect of the TPP would be particularly galling.
The adverse impact of this trade pact upon national sovereignty and the economic wellbeing of countries such as Malaysia is underscored by yet another provision which questions our procurement policies. Apart from seeking to rectify economic imbalances, government procurement policies have also attempted to expedite technology transfers to local industries, enhance export capabilities and curb foreign exchange outflows. These are goals that do not conform to TPP objectives.
The TPP also allows pharmaceutical corporations to increase the price of medicines and to limit consumer access to cheaper generic drugs. Monopoly patents would be better protected and the purchase of generic drugs would be made more difficult. At the same time, by designating a whole spectrum of policies, regulations and practices as “trade barriers” the proposed agreement undermines some of the people oriented measures associated with different TPP countries. For instance, the TPP, it is alleged, upbraids the Malaysian government for “requiring that slaughter plants maintain dedicated halal facilities and ensure segregated transportation for halal and non-halal products.”
While some of the provisions of the TPP may be set aside at the behest of individual countries, it is obvious that the US which is the driving force behind the pact is determined to use it as its vehicle to strengthen its economic position in the Pacific region in the face of the rise of China. It explains why China itself — economically the most dynamic nation in the region — has not been invited to join the TPP. This is why it would be naïve to view the TPP as a mere economic and trade arrangement. Its underlying motive is clearly political. It is a critical weapon in the US arsenal for curbing and containing the emergence of a power which has the potential of shaping the future of the entire Pacific in the decades to come.
The US will not allow this to happen. It knows that in order to remain as the world’s sole superpower it has to ensure that it is at the helm of that one region with the greatest economic viability and vitality. The US already has 320,000 troops in the Pacific region. That is the military arm of Pacific Power. The TPP is designed to secure the economic dimension of Pacific Power. As a nation committed to harmonious relations among states, Malaysia should be extra cautious about participating in any venture by any power, be it the United States or China, to enhance its hegemony over the Pacific — a region whose very name signifies peace.
Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is the President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST)