A Look At Just How Much The US Is Isolated In Its TPP Demands

from the keep-it-that-way dept

Please share widely and repost with attribution. This content is licensed CC BY-SA 3.0. Comments, suggestions, and criticism are welcome. Originally posted at To Promote the Progress?

Early Monday morning, Wikileaks released a second set of documents pertaining to the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. Unlike the previous leak, this one does not contain a draft text, and instead consists of a series of comments and analysis by an unidentified negotiating party (clearly not the U.S.), as well as a table reporting each negotiating party’s position on specific issues in each chapter. The documents come from the Salt Lake City round of negotiations, which took place from November 19 to November 24, 2013.

The comments are brief, but well worth reading, as they indicate a degree of frustration with the lack of progress during the Salt Lake City round, and explicitly charge the United States with intransigence (e.g., on the topic of agricultural export subsidies, the author writes “All TPP countries except the U.S. commit to eliminate them”; likewise, with respect to financial services, he/she writes “United States shows zero flexibility.”)

An additional round of negotiations was held from December 7 to December 10 in Singapore. We learned yesterday that contrary to previous expectations, the TPP will not be concluded by year’s end, and instead at least one additional meeting will be held in January 2014.

Following up on my previous post, which analyzed the leaked intellectual property chapter by using network graphs, in this post I analyze overall negotiating positions across the entire agreement, as well as in each individual chapter. This analysis is based on the leaked table reporting negotiating positions.

Visualizing Negotiating Positions

The following graphs take the approach of plotting negotiating “distances” between countries. That is, the more dissimilarity there is between two countries’ negotiating positions, the further apart the countries will appear on a graph. Distances are derived directly from the leaked position table. The centroid is given by the origin point (0,0). In most cases, both axes used the same scale, but in a few cases (which I note) they are different. Scales are not comparable between graphs. All the graphs use “jitter,” which helps avoid overlapping labels, but makes distances slightly inexact. For technical details, see the “Nuts and Bolts” section towards the end.

This first graph represents the overall negotiating position distances between countries across all available chapters. There is a striking separation between the United States and all other TPP negotiating parties. Australia comes closest to the U.S. position, although it is not any further from the centroid than Peru. Overall, this graph serves to provide a simple visual confirmation of the leaked comments and other news reporting on TPP negotiations: the U.S. position is quite distant from the consensus point of all other countries.

Since my area of interest is intellectual property, I look at the IP chapter next. The results suggest my previous analysis was relatively accurate. The U.S. position in the intellectual property chapter is again farthest from the centroid. Australia is also quite far from the centroid, but also far from the U.S. All the other parties are clustered relatively close together, although we can still see differences within this cluster: e.g., Vietnam and Brunei are quite near one another, as are Canada and Malaysia (I had noted both these connections in the previous analysis).

In the remainder of this section, I consider each leaked chapter in alphabetical order.

The competition/state-owned enterprises graph tells a very different story than the previous two graphs. Here we immediately see two clusters on either side of the centroid: a United States/Canada/Australia/New Zealand/Mexico cluster, and a Japan/New Zealand/Singapore/Brunei/Chile cluster. Peru, Vietnam, and Malaysia fall in the middle. Note that the relative level of disagreement when compared to other chapters is low, since the data source reports positions only on a single proposal (sub-national coverage).

In the customs chapter, we see agreement amongst all parties except Japan (who has a “reserved position”) and the United States (who is the only party accepting the proposal). Again, the relative level of disagreement when compared to other chapters is low, since the data source reports positions only on a single proposal (a de minimis exception of $200).

The e-commerce chapter also provides a very different picture. There is a clear United States/Japan/Mexico cluster, which Peru also joins. Canada is nearby, but Australia is not. Brunei and Vietnam, normally close pairs, are quite far apart in this chapter.

The environment chapter also shows a distant United States position. Canada, Australia, Japan, Mexico, and Brunei cluster together quite close to the centroid, while Peru, Chile, Vietnam and Malaysia (all lower-income and middle-income countries) appear on the other periphery.

In government procurement, Mexico and Malaysia are the outliers. Both have rejected the proposal for sub-national coverage of this chapter. Relative distances are still small, given that there are only two proposals shown in the source table.

In the investment chapter, the United States appears again as the country furthest from the centroid. Japan is also relatively distant. Australia/Canada/Mexico cluster together, as do Brunei/New Zealand/Peru/Malaysia/Chile. One of the biggest debates in this chapter surrounds so-called investor-state dispute settlement, which would permit foreign firms to sue governments over alleged trade agreement violations. This type of provision is what has permitted tobacco company Philip Morris to sue the Australian government over its plain packaging legislation.

On labor issues, Australia and the United States cluster together far from the centroid. Mexico is also quite distant. Malaysia and Canada form a pair, but closer to the centroid. Mexico’s peripheral position is due to its rejection of the proposal on forced labor. The other two proposals concern sub-national coverage and dispute settlement.

The legal chapter includes a variety of topics such as the medicines “transparency” annex (i.e., the U.S. taking aim at foreign drug price controls), provisions exempting tobacco regulations from challenge, the “cultural exception” (bonjour Quebec!), and issues concerning when the agreement will enter into force, inter alia. Interestingly, we have almost a circle of positions around the centroid, with the exception of the United States, which is again farthest from the centroid.

The market access chapter is what most people typically think of when discussing trade agreements. Here, we see a wide variety of positions, representing significant disagreement. However, yet again, the United States appears farthest from the centroid. As noted above, the U.S. is the lone holdout on the proposal to eliminate agricultural subsidies. A recent Washington Post article on the U.S. sugar industry suggests that such subsidies aren’t going anywhere. I suppose that’s why the TPP is called a “partnership agreement”, rather than a “free trade agreement.”

Rules of origin are rules defining where a product is deemed to come from. Given that anything other than the simplest products will incorporate materials or parts from multiple countries, such rules are critically important in determining what products benefit from tariff reductions. We can see significant disagreement between most parties, with the United States position yet again farthest from the centroid.

With respect to trade in services, the United States and Canadian positions are identical, but farthest from the centroid. Peru and Chile are also peripheral, while all other parties cluster together near the centroid. The U.S. and Canadian positions are defined by their rejection of the “necessity test” proposal. Necessity tests require domestic regulation of services to be limited to only what is “necessary” to achieve a party’s policy objectives. Peru’s position is defined by its rejection of the open skies (air travel regulation) proposal.

SPS refers to sanitary and phytosanitary measures, which deal with food safety and plant and animal health regulations. If you’re wondering what this has to do with free trade, think of Japan or the European Union banning imports of U.S. beef: such bans may be motivated by legitimate health and safety concerns, but they may also simply provide a convenient cover for protectionism. The graph shows a significant amount of disagreement amongst most parties. In this chapter, the U.S. remains on the periphery, as does Japan, although there is no major consensus cluster amongst the other parties.

TBT stands for technical barriers to trade. Such provisions in trade agreements are designed to ensure that regulations, standards, and testing or certification requirements do not unduly burden free trade. Australia and the United States are clustered near one another, but this time it is a Peru/Chile cluster that is farthest from the centroid. All the Asian members plus New Zealand also form a cluster.

These graphs use ISO standard 2 letter country codes, but for reference, here is a legend:

US United States
CA Canada
JP Japan
AU Australia
NZ New Zealand
MX Mexico
PE Peru
CL Chile
SG Singapore
MY Malaysia
BN Brunei
VN Vietnam

Without access to the text, it’s sometimes difficult to know exactly what the various proposals mean. However, what we do know is that in the majority of chapters for which we have data, the United States appears quite far from the centroid position, and often by itself. This isn’t really news, but I think it’s interesting to systematically consider the distances between negotiating positions, and to note that the distances and clusters vary significantly by chapter and issue.

As for what it means, I think it’s fair to conclude that the TPP – unlike something like ACTA – is by no means an agreement amongst “like-minded countries.” Now, contention and disagreement isn’t always bad; on the contrary, it’s part and parcel of any negotiation. But one has to wonder about which countries are going to end up shifting positions, and in what direction, in order to make consensus and a final text possible. I suspect it won’t be the United States offering the compromises.

There are important issues at stake in the TPP negotiations, affecting access to medicines, national health policies, and national sovereignty inter alia. Yet the negotiating parties are being pushed to come to an agreement within the next two months. I won’t delve into any more detail here about the substantive issues, other than to recommend this Guardian guide to the most contentious issues in the TPP negotiations.

Nuts and Bolts

The approach I use here is called multidimensional scaling (MDS) which visualizes similarity and differences between cases as distances in N-dimensional space. I have to give a hat tip to Zhou Fang, who suggested this approach to me.

The leaked table of negotiating positions lends itself perfectly to MDS. In fact, the hardest part was probably retyping the scanned Wikileaks document. I coded an “accepted” position as 1, a rejected” position as a 0, and a “reserved position” as 0.5. Note that coding is somewhat arbitrary; e.g., I could have chosen 1, -1, and 0 instead. Different coding will affect the nominal distances, but not the relative distances (unless the coding employed unequal intervals).

The dist function creates a distance matrix. The MASS library provides the isoMDS function. isoMDS chokes when cases are identical (zero distance), so I had to add a nominal amount of distance between otherwise identical negotiating positions. Plotting is done with ggplot2, which makes adding jitter very easy. I adjust jitter on a case-by-case basis in order to avoid misleading distortions in the graphs. Most of the graphs use identical X and Y axes, but in a few cases the Y axis would have been highly compressed, so I expand it to make visual differentiation possible. Note carefully the scale changes between graphs.

Data and code available upon request. I’m currently in South Africa, so between the time difference and sporadic access to the Internet, I might not get back to you quickly, but I will do so eventually.

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Comments on “A Look At Just How Much The US Is Isolated In Its TPP Demands”

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Anonymous Coward says:

seems to me that the best and most sensible road to take is the one that suits the majority. leaving the US out of this and on it’s own, is the best thing that could happen. obviously, the US wants to lock things done as much as possible because it is unable to do anything on it’s own any more and wants to try to ensure that what is available atm, benefits the USA and what becomes available in the future has to have USA permission to progress, and is thus shared with the USA, even though it will do absolutely chuff all to produce or develop the item(s), product or service. the other countries involved in the TPP talks and any talks in the future would do well to omit the USA. instead of allowing them to take everything from everyone else, everywhere else, let them try to exist on their own. at least like that, all other countries will be able to work towards more favourable goals that would hopefully benefit all parties.

out_of_the_blue says:

More "US isolated" distraction, but this deal will pass because globalist corporations want it.

Almost no mention of what’s in this monster, globalists, or the corporations, just some graphing of relations between countries. … Sheesh. This is so little and so ineffective of opposition that you must actually be for it.

Civilization isn’t just to have a few highly “efficient” corporations concentrating wealth: it’s to provide FAIRNESS FOR ALL.


That One Guy (profile) says:

Simple solution:

Kick the US out of the negotiations.

If the US position is drastically different from every other country on almost every issue, and (as should be completely obvious by now) they have no intention whatsoever of any real compromises that aren’t ‘do everything my way’, then just boot the US from the negotiations and continue on as normal.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

As an Aussie, it really disgusts me how much the corruption from the United States has poluted our politicians.

How willing they are to lie and cheat to please their American overlords and screw over thier own population.

Their willingness to back America over some of our biggest trading partners.

But I guess, wads of cash slid under a table is a great motivator to be the US’ bitch.

jsclown says:

Re: Re:

Are you surprised at this?

Im not and im an Australian. Our politicians cant lick the USA’s boots fast enough on almost any issue.

Our former Labor government was bad enough but they had limits (PBS (Subsidised medicine) was off the table and a few other similar things they knew better than to touch) but i think the new Liberal government just doesnt give a stuff what the public wants or thinks any more…..

What little reporting we get on the TPP here is badly censored at best and large parts of the media wont report even on what little has leaked.

Jay (profile) says:


Wow.. I’m amazed that a few graphs are so friggin hard to understand.

No one has ever talked about visualization nor shown a way to understand democracy and inform the public at all.

I’m amazed at my own ignorance at not being able to see such things with my own eyes and make my own decisions about how the US is treating the public.

Curse you Gabriel! And your little dog too!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

All I can say is ‘about time’ and ‘took them long enough’. The USG(not necessarily the US people mind you, most of which have as much control over the government as a random citizen from another nation would) has and will continue to believe that it is the most important nation on the planet until other countries take a stand and stop bowing to it’s demands.

ECA (profile) says:

Telling story

SINCE we dont have any of the agreement..

“on the topic of agricultural export subsidies, the author writes ?All TPP countries except the U.S. commit to eliminate them?; likewise, with respect to financial services, he/she writes ?United States shows zero flexibility.”

Is this admitting that the USA will keep supporting Subsidies in the USA?
Its been shown that the USA EXPORTS almost 80% of the food in this nation..
1. we PAY for that in taxes..
2. we pay for that in INFLATED prices on our food. as the USA loves forcing prices up(when not needed, when we send goods to other countries, to justify the subsidy)
3. when there are Major crop failure, ITS OUR prices that go up, even tho we could feed the USA..

It concerns me that it keeps saying the USA..when we already know that most of our representatives havnt SEEN any/most of the Documents. ANd the creators/backers are NOT the people of the USA.

What a democracy

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: nice

Didn’t you know? There are only 2 parties involved in the TPP. The US and all the rest who will do what they are told.

It is good to see that the idiot did not even read why the graph variables were selected.

to quote the article

I coded an ?accepted? position as 1, a rejected? position as a 0, and a ?reserved position? as 0.5. Note that coding is somewhat arbitrary; e.g., I could have chosen 1, -1, and 0 instead. Different coding will affect the nominal distances, but not the relative distances (unless the coding employed unequal intervals).

anonymouse says:

Obvious solution

Allow all other countries to come to an agreement, then let the US know what the agreements are and if they want to sign on let them. But i believe that at this stage the fact that the US is not even negotiating with others points to the fact that the agreement will not be passed until they are removed from the negotiations completely and have to accept what others have decided, this is one time where the US can be shot down for their superior than thou attitude and told that they will either accept the tpp as others have negotiated in fairness or just let the US go it alone.

Gabriel (profile) says:

Julian Assange and the mainstream press

Who else finds it relatively absurd Julian Assange is walking free if he’s such a threat/ hero the patently absurd mainstream press makes him out to be? Now we have the latest “leak” — treaty negotiations!

The super-absurd theatre of American politics and society: treaty negotiations cannot be kept secret, but now our secret sleuth super hero is revealing them for us. Ha. Ha. Ha.

“Secret treaty negotiations” has a shorter name: treason.

Julian Assange is a heavily-funded mainstream press-created illusion: an outlet: a fantasy the young and the brave and the free-at-heart can connect with as they salve their tired minds, minds unduly burdened by endless salvos of mandatory dissociation brought on by the onslaught of contradictory lies: lies that contradict both one another and the truth. Julian Assange and Edward Snowden: misinformation, disinformation, and misdirection. The most powerful of mind-control propaganda brought you these two clowns. How do I know? Press coverage. Period. If it’s in the news it’s BS: those anchorfolk aren’t there to bring you the news — they’re there to frame your worldview and create your reality for you — they’re there to keep you in line. They are the shepherds.

I really like how this Julian Assange thing is working out, though: smooth. Smooth as butter. Like soft serve half-and-half chocolate and vanilla. Good job, guys. Another point to the propagandists. They win them all.

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