Among the most noticeable events that took place on the sidelines of the latest APEC summit (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation), held on November 10-11 of this year in the Vietnamese city of Da Nang, activities that attracted the greatest interest were at the Ministerial level, and later at the highest level of the TPP participating countries. That is because TPP’s subsequent fate is on the list of most important factors that are determining the character of the current, ongoing reshuffling of global political cards.
This list can be narrowed down to a few main trends among the few leading world players, as well as political geometric configurations of those same players, who wield decisive participation.
TPP enters the picture as such a configuration. That, in general, was not raising any doubts when the world’s leader, the USA, was a participant (and the main driving force) of the project, if for no other reason than that TPP, with America’s participation, accounted for about 40% of global GDP.
But even after the current American President withdrew the USA from the project, the remaining 11 participants produce a very impressive 27% of global GDP. This is almost equal to the productivity of the configuration “EU-Japan,” which is quite remarkable in all aspects (and not just economic). That configuration took shape in the middle of this year’s summer, when Tokyo and Brussels agreed upon the creation of a joint FTZ (free trade zone).
Now the corpse of the TPP, which is growing cold, is trying to energize Japan. Japanese Ministers in particular, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe himself, acted as project resuscitators in Da Nang. And the “resuscitation” as described might have occurred, had it not been for the “weak spot” that Canada showed.
During a few rounds of preliminary negotiations at the level of ranking representatives, and Ministers of the TPP’s 11 participants, it was decided not to make any revisions to the documents, which had been approved conclusively in February 2016 (meaning, still with Washington’s participation), but the validity of a few dozen points was “put on ice” “up to the return” of the USA to the project.
Canada refused to sign even this document which, as best that can be understood, came at the very last moment, and completely unexpected by all the other 10 participants of the meeting in Da Nang.
On the morning of November 10, Vietnam’s Minister of Trade (having host country authority of the meeting) announced the achievement of a “fundamental agreement” for the TPP project, the English abbreviation for which acquired 2 additional letters “C” (Comprehensive), and also “P” (Progressive), and now looks like CPTPP. An hour earlier, Canada’s Minister of Trade, François-Philippe Champagne spoke out in similar fashion.
However, just a few hours later, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared that some more work was required to achieve a “final agreement”. Consequently, at this time no TPP – neither “comprehensive,” nor “progressive – has arisen on the world’s political arena.
Commentators of the unexpected Canadian “slowdown” pretty definitively tie it to difficult, ongoing negotiations regarding the restructuring of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), which includes Canada, together with Mexico and the USA. At the insistence of Donald Trump, this process was set in motion in the summer of this year, and its progress has been discussed in NEO.
We’ll remind our readers that the American President was also present in Da Nang. Quite possibly, Justin Trudeau could have heard from him some “friendly advice” concerning TPP.
Right now it’s difficult to give a more or less exact description of the document not signed by Canada, as well as the current state of TPP overall. As always, artistic forms come to our aid.
The cartoon in the Chinese newspaper, “Global Times”, depicts a portico, supported on one side by three stone columns with letters that form the English abbreviation TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership). The other side of the portico is held up by two flimsy sticks (seemingly put there in haste), which are marked by the same new letters “C” and “P.” With a lively step, an American eagle takes away the mighty column that stood before in their spot.
It’s hard to take issue with the cartoon’s artist, who seems to have wanted to say that TPP’s prospects remain unclear, even doubtful, and expectations for the return of the USA to the project should be abandoned.
At the same time, attention was raised by an unexpectedly cordial meeting on the sidelines of the APEC meeting between Shinzo Abe and the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping.
The word “unexpected” means that, despite the resumption recently of bilateral contacts with the participation of eminent, retired politicians, parliamentarians, and businessmen, the persistent, overall atmosphere of mutual suspicion would not incline one to expect to hear from Chairman Xi words “about success over the last months” in bilateral relations or even attribute to them “a new start”. With those words, Shinzo Abe was in complete agreement.
If concrete actions will follow the words, this will then become one of the few extremely important, positive trends of the current situation in the Asia-Pacific Region (APR).
Its development may be hindered by, in particular, the ongoing differences in viewpoints regarding future, regional economic cooperation. As noted above, Japan is now the main “promoter” of TPP, which, though being implemented in the form of “without the USA”, for now maintains an anti-Chinese political orientation put there earlier by Barack Obama.
With just this circumstance in mind, the Chinese leader in his address at the APEC summit in Da Nang spoke out against “closed” economic configurations in the region, and for closer cooperation among countries included in the very same APEC and ASEAN. We should note that both of these organizations include almost all (besides Canada) TPP participants, and also the USA.
So, the mere fact, progress, as well as results of the latest activities conducted in Da Nang as part of the TPP project of the new configuration, directly affect the various aspects of the political game, which has been unfolding in the APR. By the same token, the character of its development will fundamentally determine TPP’s fate.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”