Tuesday, 21 November 2017

The universalism behind the TPP

The “core elements” of the TPP free trade deal, now called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, have been broadly decided.

The first Premier of the People's Republic of China Zhou Enlai was once asked what he thought of the French Revolution, he responded: "it's too early to say." Probably this was invented by some clever journalist, but it's still a good line.

The new deal includes suspensions and tweaks, but they mean little in the long run. Keep your eye on the ball: what’s important is a stable ecosystem composed of parts fitting together hand-in-glove to deny gaps an invasive species could exploit. That’s why the CPTPP’s heart continues to beat.

No one seems suspicious that a deal so happily championed by the US is still considered fundamental to 11 non-American nations. The TPP was the creation of a US-led system of trade rules for the Pacific Rim, to capture the markets and social assumptions of the region and channel them in the required direction. This is not at all controversial.

What’s surprising is how well the overarching strategy of global connectivity has been accepted. The scheme is entirely reliant on international public policy, rather than politics – even as they recite deep belief in democracy. Everyone is reading from the same page. The question is: what is this page? What’s the goal? Where did this idea come from?

Whatever it is, it clearly accepts only one nation: the entire planet. It knows only one race: the human race. Reading these sentences, any believer will nod and smile at the unsurpassable beauty of the faith. People who believe in world government are like those who believe that if a teaspoon of cyanide will kill you, a whole bottle is just the thing to do you good.

As Mr Zhou would say, it’s too early to say if CPTPP will work. What’s far more interesting for historical purposes is to notice that people with this universalist ideal and power exist across the world, in very different countries. Listen to the words in the 1975 thriller Three Days of the Condor:

“Today it's oil, right? In 10 or 15 years, food, plutonium. And maybe even sooner. And what do you think the people are going to want us to do then? Ask them when they're running out. Ask them when there's no heat in their homes and they're cold. Ask them when their engines stop. Ask them when people who've never known hunger start going hungry. 
“You wanna know something? They won't want us to ask them. They'll just want us to get it for them.”

And so the CPTPP breathes on today. Some hate the idea of faceless civil servants working to secure the future without recognition or praise. But if responsibility is power, then wouldn’t it be best for responsible people to pull the strings? Love or hate it, this is happening.

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