by Andrew Korybko
The common perception of the TPP among informed individuals is that it’s an American-dominated ‘trade’ organization, a framework designed to secure the US’ top position vis-à-vis all of the signatory states. While that’s certainly true and isn’t to be disputed at all, there are also deeper, more subtle geopolitical goals that are being pursued at the same time, which if fulfilled, would greatly increase the viability of American power over this integrated sphere. It’s thus worthwhile to examine these finer intricacies that are often overlooked by many TPP analysts and introduce them into the larger conversation that’s being held about the topic. Upon closer scrutiny, it becomes evident that the TPP is designed to unify three distinct and expanding blocs, and that the US applies an economic version of its “Lead From Behind” stratagem in order to control the other two and thus secure its unipolar stranglehold over their Asia-Pacific and Latin American areas of ‘responsibility’.
The Three Blocs
On the surface of things, TPP seems to simply be about tying Pacific economies closer to the US, but there’s really a bit more detail to it. To get the full picture, let’s first list all of the participating countries:
Australia/Brunei/Canada/Chile/Japan/Malaysia/Mexico/New Zealand/Peru/ Singapore/US/Vietnam/
Now it’s time to organize the countries by their preexisting free trade agreement (FTA) bloc affiliations:
Core – US
TPP-Participating Members – US, Canada, Mexico
Japan-ASEAN/Japan-Pacific Alliance (Partial):
Core – Japan
TPP-Participating Members (Japan-ASEAN) – Japan, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam
TPP-Participating Members (Japan-Pacific Alliance [Partial]) – Japan, Chile, Mexico, Peru
Pacific Alliance (Partial)-NAFTA/Pacific Alliance (Partial)-Japan:
Core – Mexico
TPP-Participating Members (Pacific Alliance [Partial])-NAFTA) – Mexico, Canada, Chile, Peru, US
TPP-Participating Members (Pacific Alliance [Partial])-Japan) – Mexico, Chile, Japan, Peru
Who Wins What?
As one can observe from above, most of the TPP countries are already in FTAs with one another, and actually, the arrangement is more like a union of the three blocs (partial in the case of the Pacific Alliance, as Colombia and Costa Rica are not involved) than a randomly scattered trading scheme. It thus becomes important to understand exactly what each bloc/core gains from the TPP in terms of new FTAs. One can refer to these official links for a comprehensive listing of all the FTAs that the US, Japan, and Mexico are currently in, but to simplify for the reader, here’s what each of them acquires:
Everything new that the US gains from the TPP can be found in Asia, specifically in FTAs with Brunei, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Vietnam. Looked at another way, this is Japan, New Zealand (to complement the US-Australian FTA), and part of ASEAN.
The only thing that Tokyo wins from TPP is a FTA with Canada, New Zealand, and the US. To put it differently, it clinches a FTA with the rest of NAFTA, and as with the US, it broadens its original FTA with Australia to include its ally and close economic partner New Zealand.
Mexico and its TPP-participating Pacific Alliance members of Chile and Peru already have FTAs with the US, Canada (or one can say NAFTA), and Japan, so the only things added for them are the new partnerships with Australia (except for Chile, which already has one with Canberra), Brunei, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, and Vietnam (partial ASEAN + Oceania).
Considering the cited research in terms of existing FTAs and the new multilateral ones that will emerge from TPP, it’s questionable what differentiating factor TPP has other than tying them all more formally together. What one should never forget, however, is that the TPP has clauses that hand de-facto political rights to corporations, thus making it the world’s first formalized system of post-modern “government” or “economic governance”. To put it bluntly, transnational economic actors begin exercising political rights over populations and their elected governments, while neither of these two subjects is able do the same to the corporations, thus creating a top-down vertical of power.
The “revolutionary rules” laid out in the TPP have the very real risk of essentially nullifying the FTAs that partner states have already struck with non-TPP members, such as Vietnam’s FTA with the Eurasian Union, or at least making them effectively unworkable for fear that the host government could be sued by a fellow TPP-member transnational corporation (TNC) for violating ‘unfair competition’ clauses. Other FTAs more preferable to unipolarity such as the one between Japan and India wouldn’t be affected by the TPP’s “economic governance” provisions, thus showing that the new rule regime could be politically selective in choosing and enforcing who gets discriminated against and which actors are ignored and allowed to prosper.
Geopolitically speaking, it’s easy to predict how the dynamics of this will unfold. The US and Japan are the two TPP members with the strongest and most active TNCs, and they’re distantly trailed by Singapore, Mexico, Canada, and Australia. The Six, if one can call them that, will certainly enter into some kind of TNC-related disagreements and controversies amongst themselves, but most likely, they’ll probably be much too busy divvying up their weaker Southeast Asian and Latin American counterparts to care too much.
Each of these six aforementioned countries, and especially the US and Japan, have TNCs that are very experienced in their operations, while states like Peru and Vietnam have the opposite type of experience, which is being on the receiving end of the TNCs’ activity. This established relationship is only expected to deepen with the TPP, and the target economies will thus inevitably come to be politically linked to their ‘parasites’, be they the TNCs themselves or the formal governments that they represent. New Zealand is a bit unusual of a case because it doesn’t have much TNC experience in either direction (exploiting or being exploited), but it could be projected to work together with its traditional Australian ally in conducting joint ventures in Southeast Asia, specifically Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam.
The US and Japan, as the two largest economies in the TPP, will just about have free reign to exert their influence throughout all of the members, especially the Southeast Asian and Latin American ones, although they’ll probably commit more attention to the ASEAN states owing to the “Pivot to Asia” and the perceived ‘urgency’ in ‘containing China’. Mexico will probably move along a different vector, and it can be expected to consolidate its influence over the TPP’s Pacific Alliance members. Part of the reason for this forecast is that Mexico already has institutionalized links with these countries through the Pacific Alliance, and the linguistic similarities and cultural ease of doing business there can streamline the country’s effectiveness in “economically governing” these states (Peru more so than Chile, which is way more developed and ‘wise’ to what’s going on).
Tightening The Chokehold
Thus far, it’s been argued that the TPP can be interpreted as an intertwined nexus of NAFTA, Japan, and the Pacific Alliance (partially). Considering that these three and their respective cores in Washington, Tokyo, and Mexico City will be coordinating even closer as a result (especially in the case of Southeast Asia and Latin America [more so mineral-rich, strategically positioned, and weakly governed Peru than Chile]), it’s topical to forecast the direction that their multilateral “leadership” cooperation may take. Generally speaking, its primary trajectory will be in strengthening their economic chokeholds over each of their respective regions, with ASEAN for Japan (with which it already has a FTA) and Mexico for Latin America, and both Tokyo and Mexico City will be fulfilling their “Lead From Behind” ‘obligation’ to the US as a result.
Looking at the first theater of TPP expansion, ASEAN, it’s predictable that more of the bloc’s countries would end up joining until the agreement includes the entire entity. Indonesia’s surprise announcement in late October that it would like to join the framework is a major step in this direction, and all of the other regional economies may now feel pressured to follow the largest one’s lead. It’ll take some time for Jakarta to join, but once it does, observers can expect most of the other ASEAN states to race into it as well, and if Thailand and Laos decide to participate, then this could seriously complicate their evolving strategic partnerships with China and inhibit Beijing’s pragmatic influence in the region. Of course, this is precisely what the US wants, so it and Japan will try to capitalize on Indonesia’s interest in the TPP to try to lure the rest of the bloc in with time.
Concerning Latin America, things are a bit ‘easier’ for the US and Mexico, as both of them already have FTAs with practically all of Central America and the western coast of South America (excluding Ecuador). The only two countries in Pacific Latin America that Mexico has yet to sign a FTA with are Panama and Ecuador, while for the US, it’s only Ecuador. If the TPP can be expanded to include the ‘hold out’ economies that both cores have FTAs with but aren’t yet part of the “economic governance” framework (such as Guatemala for example), then they can solidly enact a “legal” means of controlling these states and subverting them to proxy status for decades to come. More than likely, the ‘quickest’ path this could take would be in the Pacific Alliance expanding its membership all along the coast, likely absorbing all of the smaller economies with the exception of multipolar-oriented Ecuador and Nicaragua, and then pushing for the bloc’s new members to be admitted into the TPP.
In essence, what is being recreated is both the World War II-era Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere and the Western Hemispheric version of the Spanish Empire, but modified for contemporary geopolitical conditions. To explain, Japan’s planned hegemonic status over ASEAN is exactly the same as what it had attempted to achieve in World War II, albeit this time without violence, and Mexico is economically trying to unite most of Latin America under its institutional influence just as Spain had done centuries prior (but with much more bloodshed). Other than the utilization of soft power and economic means as opposed to purely militaristic ones, the primary difference that today’s paradigm has when compared to the past is that each neo-imperial core, while motivated by their own self-interest, is indirectly fulfilling the grand strategy of the US through their ‘localized’ “Lead From Behind” proxy rule over their respective geopolitical spaces. In this ‘outsourced’ manner, the US is able to exercise its supreme hegemony over these spheres a lot more optimally than if it had sought to do so directly and through ‘outdated’ 20th-century means.
In the long-term, if the US’ grand strategy is advanced through the TPP, then East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific coast of Latin America will be part of the same trading structure controlled by Washington, which as just explained, will use it and its Japanese and Mexican cores’ TNCs to “economically govern” each of the vassal states. Concurrently with this, the US would also ideally like to conclude the TTIP with the EU, thus allowing it to economically strangle its trans-Atlantic “partners” with the same force that it’s already doing militarily with NATO.
In the fantasies of American policy makers, the US connects trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic trade while also dominating everything in the Western Hemisphere outside of Mercosur (and if Brazil has a Color Revolution or ‘constitutional coup’, then it too might get dragged into the net), using of course the revolutionary “governance” mechanisms rolled out in the TPP that are anticipated to become the ‘new normal’ in unipolar trading agreements. Stretching things a bit further, if India joins the US in its “Chinese Containment Coalition” and the Cold War between it and Beijing heats up to unprecedented proportions, then New Delhi might find a way to figure into this global Ponzi scheme.
None of these predictions are set in stone, and international politics always finds a way to surprise observers in some way or another, but for the most part, if left unhindered and to its own designs, the economic plans of a combined and coordinated TPP, TTIP, and an expanding Pacific Alliance amount to nothing more than a global economic coup d’état, and if allowed to succeed, then it could herald in a roaring return of repressive unipolarity right in the middle of what many had hoped would be the multipolar century.