January 15, 2016
Condolences to Indonesia–Stay Strong
The Politics of TPPA–Trade or Geo-Politics ?
by Rama Ramanathan
Mr. Najib, what is the real deal?
In my last article, I said I oppose Malaysia signing the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), principally because our government runs on cronyism, our Parliament is a rubber stamp for the regime’s wishes, and 11 nations are profiting by rubber-stamping an undemocratic regime in Malaysia.
I also said that despite their exaggerations, many who claim Malaysia will lose in several areas are not wrong. I said we must view TPPA as a trade: we must ask what we will gain, not just what we will lose.
NGOs and opposition parties have called attention to many losses. Despite their exaggerations and emotive language, there is truth in what they say.
The government and proponents of TPPA have been relatively silent about the gains. Malay rights groups wanted to be assured that the privileges accorded to them in government policies will be maintained.
The Prime Minister has convinced them that the 11 nations have agreed not to challenge race-based policies in Malaysia.
What does TPPA contain?Don’t believe those who say TPPA is a public document which anyone can read and assess.It’s true it’s public. It’s true that all of it is available. But, it’s also true that it’s only available in fragments – everything listed in the contents page is a separate document.
Not only is it fragmented, it is also subject matter-intensive. You need to have some understanding of economic and political models in order to read it with understanding.
You need to ask questions such as: How is this different from other trade agreements? Why would countries ranging from Peru to the US agree to this?
What existing mechanisms are being bypassed? What will be the impact on foreign and domestic investments? It is common knowledge that big nations are flexing their muscles. Russia has gone it alone with bombing raids in the Middle East. China has started building an airbase on a disputed island. The US is running military operations in the Middle East. Mostly, the US is worried about China becoming a hegemon in the Pacific.
Malaysia is sending confusing signals about its relations with the Chinese. On the one hand, UMNO leaders rail against the Chinese community in both Malaysia and Singapore; on the other hand, the UMNO-controlled government, through 1MDB, has sold power generation assets and land to companies incorporated in China.
Malaysia has often said that the US foreign policy is controlled by Jews – a religious-racial group which Malaysia’s official Islam loves to hate. Also, Isis/ISL, the self-styled Islamic State, considers all friends of the US enemies of Islam.
So why would Malaysia now want to openly ink a formal alliance with the US? Is TPPA an alliance with the US? Is the US the de facto head of TPPA? Do nations which sign the TPPA – such as Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Singapore – agree to recognise the US as hegemon?
By “hegemon”, I mean “the dominant partner”, the driving force for completion of the agreement and for enforcing it. Economists who subscribe to “hegemonic stability theory” say a massive military and economic power is needed in order to ensure free trade occurs routinely and peacefully.
The big idea is that the nationalistic ideas of small states – often expressed through protectionist tariffs – must be ended if free trade is to prevail.The big idea is also that only a big economy can afford the short-term costs of allowing smaller economies to “gain”, in order to ensure overall stability and protect the big economy in the long-term.
According to the theory, the hegemon must (1) have enough power to enforce the rules of the system; (2) have the will to exercise the power and (3) be committed to the betterment of all rather than a narrow nationalistic interest.Do you believe a hegemon is necessary? Do you believe the US meets all the criteria?
Since, in ASEAN, only Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam are TPPA signatories (to-be), does it even matter?
I don’t know if there is one correct answer. I just know that most whom I’ve heard discussing TPPA haven’t discussed this aspect of it.I’ve not come across any articles which validate the “US as hegemon” argument by citing passages or themes from TPPA.
For me, TPPA is yet another display of the ignorance of our Cabinet, the narrow-mindedness of the opposition and many NGOs, and the ignorance of the public including myself, about trade and governance.
Why is our government so ineffective in communicating the benefits of TPPA? Why are the opponents of TPPA so effective in sowing doubts? Who should we trust?