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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 18, April 20, 2013

American-style Integration in the Asia-Pacific

Monday 22 April 2013, by Benjamin Todd

According to international economic experts, Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is one of the core issues of Washington’s “Returning to Asia” strategy. However, unlike a number of other economic integration institutions of the Asia-Pacific region, negotiations between the US and prospective BJP member-countries are being conducted in the most vague and secretive manner, without reference to all the “hidden rocks” of the proposed treaty.

Particularly noteworthy in this context is the letter US Sales Representative Ron Kirk sent to the American Congress. Therein he pointed out that in accordance with the TPP conditions the following points of the agreement should correspond to American standards: labour, patent and authors’ rights; land tenure provisions, agricultural and production standards; natural resources, environ-mental protection, professional licensing, public industries and policy of government purchases. Moreover, TPP must infringe into the states’ financial and energy policies, health services, telecommunications and service industries. In other words, experts underline the fact that TPP goes far beyond the limits underlying the standard commercial treaty between countries.

Among the 26 heads of TPP negotiations only two are directly related to trade. Most points of the agreement provide corporations with new rights and privileges. American economic officials tacitly call TPP a “corporate revolution” and “NAFTA on Steroids”. With the help of this treaty the US is intending to give new political powers to transatlantic corporations thus partially depriving the national authorities of the means to control the economic sphere. It is presumed that international corporations, functioning in sovereign states, will no longer follow domestic laws on environmental protection, financial and labour rights. Additionally, these international corporations will enjoy the right to advance claims directly to the national govern-ments through a newly-created structure—the so-called International Tribunal—and demand removal of obstacles coming in the way of garnering potential profits.

The main issues coming under the purview of the TPP are the rights of intellectual property, as well as those of the authors and patents. With the help of their lobbyists in the White House Adminis-tration, the corporations have consolidated and broadened the interpretation of the aforemen-tioned rights in the provisions of the treaty. These primarily relate to intellectual property issues. Pharmaceutical corporations are sticklers for such innovations. The objective is to ensure that the state-supported pharmaceutical corporations gain advantage over their competitors who will be denied the right to enter the market with similar products for 14 years, that is, till such time the product in question passes the safety and afficiency tests. Statements expressing such designs directly contradict the concept of free trade while limiting competition and facilitating the raising of consumer prices to prohibitive levels. As a consequence, the populations of poor countries will be deprived of low-price medicines and local and government companies, restricted by patent limitations, will be barred from manufacturing analogous drugs. Such a prospective monopoly will enable the corporations to set high prices on medicines, putting those beyond the reach of the poor.

Even though officially the US Government regards TPP as the economic core of a hypothetical union of East Asian states having close ties with each other on the one side and the American West Coast on the other, the key partner of Washington, Tokyo, has yet to decide whether or not it would enter into the treaty obligations. Representatives of the Japanese agricultural sector apprehend that the American rural giants would infringe on their rights. It is quite possible that the rural economy of the weaker states would submit to the pressure of the US corporations to the detriment of those countries’ interests.

The US is justifiably being criticised for attemp-ting, through such a mechanism, to split the existing and newly-formed institutions of integration in the Asia-Pacific region, that is, the APEC, ASEAN, ASEAM+3, ASEAN+6, APFTZ. Washington’s efforts are all geared towards restricting the Chinese economic influence in the region.

Simultenaously Washington is actively promoting a new initiative—the creation of an India-Pacific Economic Channel under the aegis of the US thereby heightening contradictions withint he ASEAN.

The heads of countries in the Asia-Pacific need to ponder over all the pros and cons of such an American-style integration in the region. President Barack Obama is primarily concerned with the recovery of the US economy, and “Returning to Asia” is just about raising monetary resources, which is far from rendering aid. In such conditions the Asia-Pacific states have to work out policies aimed at safeguarding their own economic interests that are at variance with those of the US. They must closely study the American business proposals and turn their attention to prospective markets and opportunities within the region.

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