The Trans-Pacific Partnership: Imperial Preference Reborn?

TPP Death Star

Peter E. Hamilton
University of Texas at Austin 

Empires are in motion in the Pacific. While China continues to assert its military muscle in the East and South China Seas, it is simultaneously ramping up a “soft power” offensive through the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). This Chinese-led institution represents the opening salvo in a sustained effort to decenter US-dominated institutions such as the World Bank from exclusive leadership over global capitalism. Indeed, China is also adding momentum to its proposed Free Trade Area of Asia Pacific (FTAAP), a free trade zone that would include many US allies but not the United States. Increasingly sensitive about this competitor, the United States is now rushing to reinforce the imperial perimeter that it has held across most of Asia’s coastline since the end of World War II.

As a result, on June 24 the US Congress granted the Obama administration what is called “fast track” or trade promotion authority to complete negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This vast free trade agreement will cover the United States and eleven of its principal Pacific partners—together nearly 40 percent of the global economy. From Japan, Canada, and Mexico to Chile, Malaysia, and Vietnam, each potential signatory is either a key US ally or very invested in maintaining US leadership in the Pacific.

China’s absence is glaring. Moreover, while fast-track authority makes the TPP far more likely by prohibiting death by Congressional amendment, this practical step also underscores that the administration and Congress (primarily Republicans) both view this deal through a strategic lens and its potential to cement non-Chinese relationships. The actual details are seen as far less important and have been largely entrusted to multinationals’ lobbyists. When these complex and now highly secretive terms debut, Congress and the public will likely be railroaded into their wholesale acceptance. The TPP thus offers a new iteration of the United States’ and other empires’ longstanding use of market access to cement informal control over allies and client states. Continue reading “The Trans-Pacific Partnership: Imperial Preference Reborn?”