The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is quickly and silently bringing about the largest free trade area in the world. Negotiations have lingered in the corridors of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summits since 2002, leading to a core agreement between Brunei, New Zealand, Singapore, and Chile in 2006. The present expansion, which is to include Australia, Malaysia, Japan, Vietnam, the United States, and Peru brings with it a mind bending breadth that makes the failed Free Trade Area of the Americas look like a simple card trick. What’s more interesting is that the astronomical negotiations seem to be expanding still to swallow up the entire Pacific Rim, including most notably Canada, Mexico, Russia, Indonesia, and China.
It is clear that free trade tends to create a situation of winners and losers, a scenario of accumulation of capital at the top and lowering of standards for the rest. As the Eurozone economic crisis spills over into Asia, exports from most of the the TPP countries have started to fall off. In recent weeks, Indonesia and Australia both lowered their interest rates. The TPP may increase exports, but only at the price of increased dispossession and environmental destruction. It stands to benefit the elites of all of the countries involved, while throwing down the hopes of environmentalists, labor activists, and indigenous peoples throughout the region. Wealthier nations with advanced manufacturing sectors will use this agreement to take advantage of the poorer nations.
Like most free trade agreements, the TPP has covered the bases of investor protections, sanitary and phytosanitary harmonization, tariff elimination, intellectual property protections, and government procurement prohibitions. Ecocide is the name of the game: Vietnam will increase oil and textiles production; Malaysia and Indonesia will increase palm oil production and mining; New Zealand and Australia will expand their industrial farming sectors. Brunei, an emerging tax shelter, will play host to increased finance capital markets, as will Singapore. The illegal fishing sector, criticized throughout the world for its rapacity, will be given added shelter, as will gold and coal mining giants throughout the region.
The largest importer of coal in the world, Japan hit the talks running this month, likely looking to compete with South Korea in the export market, as well as cheaper markets for coal after the disgrace of its nuclear industry. It is not a coincidence that the TPP seeks to involve the top three coal exporters in the world (Australia, Indonesia, Russia) and four out of the top five coal consumers (China, USA, Russia, Japan). While reaching for protections on cheap coal production and trade, all of the TPP countries are also looking for trade-related solutions to domestic feet-dragging on alternative energy production. Japan, in particular, is likely thirsting after cheap biofuels to add carbon credits to its strong automobile industry, with the encouragement of the US.
Indonesia and Malaysia are first and second in the world respectively in the cultivation of palm oil, which is the prime ingredient in biofuels. While both nations have signed schemes that mandate “green” palm oil plantations, they are also taking advantage of the REDD+ climate agreements, which posit indigenous subsistence farming as a greater ecological threat to than the deforestation concomitant with palm oil farming—a claim that enables the state to seize land held informally for the “conservation” of rainforests, which are subsequently cut down and replanted with palms. (for more, see the REDD Papers released by the Indigenous Environmental Network)
If the TPP was not enough, earlier this week a business consortium comprised of General Electric, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Airbus, Siemens, and ThyssenKrupp joined forces to request that Obama launch a Trans Atlantic Partnership inclusive of the US and sovereign countries of the European Union! Although Obama would likely consult Congress before such an agreement would be initiated, there is no indication that either party would shoot such an opportunity down. In fact, the Obama Administration is staring down the short end of a set of trade agreements that will effectively blow apart the Doha round of world trade talks, annihilating eleven years of failed attempts to increase environmental and economic accountability in global trade.