The China-U.S. Free Trade Battle, A View From Latin America

Pursuit of free trade may be at an all-time high as Washington seals the TPP deal and Beijing pursues its New Silk Road. Here's how it all looks from Bogota.

A fisherman at Gangluan port of Longkou city.
A fisherman at Gangluan port of Longkou city.
Óscar Güesgan Serpa


BOGOTÁ â€" The free-trade paradigm is tightening its grip on the world. The recent evidence is clear, from the recent signing of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact among 12 Pacific Rim nations (China excluded), to the Chinese response in the form of the so-called New Silk Road.

The TPP, which encompasses economies worth more than 40% of the world's GDP, is considered by some as the most significant regional trade agreement ever. Driven by the United States, it is meant to counter China's rise and ensure Washington's own "pivot" toward Asia, ensuring new American friends and maintaining the balance of power in this part of the world.

China's exclusion reflects the strategic interests of the United States and Japan, says Gonzalo Garland, a lecturer at the IE Business School in Spain, and "especially counterbalances China's economic weight."

China's current strategy, he says, is "to welcome the accord and show some interest in it, within the philosophy that any free trade accord is positive. Yet undoubtedly, China is eyeing it with a mix of distrust and interest."

The TPP agreement, which includes Japan, Chile, Peru and Mexico, has been criticized for the secrecy of its negotiations. Anything known about it so far has been divulged only by WikiLeaks, which has revealed the possibility of intellectual property rights used to limit free speech on the Internet, a supposed ban on sales of generic medicines and privileges for companies that move their investments to TPP states.

"This can be criticized from two sides," says Javier Garay, a professor at Colombia's Externado University. "Firstly, the negotiations were carried out behind the public's back. Second, as with all free-trade treaties, there are sectors that will lose out, and they want to protect their interests."

Multiple motives

The presence of Peru, Chile and Mexico advances the argument that, beyond its desire to counter China's economic weight, the United States wants to recover the ground it lost in Latin America after the 2008 financial crash. China used that as an opportunity to finance countries that had hitherto been dependent on their North American neighbor.

A shipping container in Cartagena, Colombia. Photo: Wirralwater

While the TPP was being negotiated, Colombia, Peru, Mexico and Chile were forging their own pact, the Pacific Alliance. That has linked Colombia to Latin American states but not to the "big players" in the world economy, says Javier Díaz, president of the National Foreign Trade Association (Analdex). Today the Pacific Alliance is the closest Colombia has to a pact with Asia, and it only entered into vigor in the middle of this year. Its practical benefits are already being questioned.

Max Rodríguez, a Colombia representative for the Peruvian promotional agency PromPerú, says that the benefits of such pacts must be examined over time. "Thanks to the Pacific Alliance, right now trade between member states is stronger and economic performance is better than the regional average," he says.

Colombian investments in Peru between 2011 and 2015 have doubled, from $5 billion to $10 billion, while Peru's in Colombia have increased 50%. "Saying there have been no results is a fallacy," Rodríguez quips.

Professor Garay blames the current government for having halted trade liberalization policies pursued by the previous government headed by President Álvaro Uribe. "It's not just a foreign policy and trade issue, but about domestic policies," he says.

These are local concerns. Meanwhile, China and the United States are busy imposing the free-trade paradigm. When the TPP is in force and the New Silk Road becomes a reality, just two pacts will include 60 countries and a third of the world's GDP. That will ensure that business in the future will be more global than ever.
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Iran To Offer Master's And PhD In Morality Enforcement

For those aiming to serve the Islamic Republic of Iran as experts to train the public morality agents, there are now courses to obtain the "proper" training.

Properly dressed in the holy city of Qom.

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

A woman in Tehran walks past a mural of an Iranian flag

The traffic police chief recently said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes

Rouzbeh Fouladi/ZUMA

New academic discipline

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

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