The United States is isolated in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations

November 18, 2013
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Here’s another, more quantitative perspective on the Trans Pacific Partnership from Gabriel Michael, a 5th year Ph.D. candidate at George Washington University.

Last Thursday, WikiLeaks released a draft text of the intellectual property (IP) chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. The TPP is a free-trade agreement currently being negotiated between 12 countries: the United States, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, and Japan. Like many such trade agreements, the TPP has been negotiated secretly, with access to draft texts provided only to lobbyists and the like. Even Congress feels like it’s been left out. WikiLeaks’s release thus provides an opportunity for academics, public interest groups, and citizens to examine what is being negotiated in their name.

There are a number of excellent analyses of the leaked text; if you’re interested, I recommend checking out pieces by Susan Sell, Jamie Love, and Margot Kaminski. Canadians will appreciate Michael Geist’s take. In addition to what the text says, however, draft treaties also include information about who is saying what.  And that information reveals how isolated the United States is relative to other countries.

Hundreds of markers sprinkled throughout the chapter identify which country or groups of countries support or oppose various provisions in the treaty. Take the following snippet, from Article QQ.A.5:

(a) The obligations of this Chapter do not and should not prevent a Party from taking measures to protect public health by promoting access to medicines for all, in particular concerning cases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, [US oppose: chagas] and other epidemics as well as circumstances of extreme urgency or national emergency.

Here, “[US oppose: chagas]” indicates the word “chagas” is disputed, with the United States opposing its inclusion in the treaty. This is a reference to Chagas disease, a form of trypanosomiasis, a parasitic disease primarily affecting Latin America. U.S. opposition can probably be attributed to pressure from the pharmaceutical industry.

Often these markers include more than one country, as in the following example:

[CL/NZ propose; US/AU/JP/MX oppose: 2. Nothing in this Chapter shall derogate from existing rights and obligations that Parties have to each other under the TRIPS Agreement or other multilateral agreements, such as those concluded or administered under the auspices of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).]

Here, Chile and New Zealand have proposed including a sentence specifying that the TPP should not contravene other international agreements, while the United States, Australia, Japan, and Mexico oppose its inclusion. I can’t speak for the other countries in the latter group, but the United States probably opposes this sentence because it doesn’t like the positions of the WHO and UNESCO on intellectual property issues. The WHO has sometimes criticized patents as an obstacle to global health.

All these markers offer detailed information about country negotiating positions, and which countries are aligned with others. Looking through the leaked text, it’s immediately obvious that some groupings of countries are more common than others. If we collect all these markers, we find some interesting patterns.

Political scientists often talk about dyads, by which we simply mean groups of two. In this case, a dyad refers to a pair of TPP countries. If we count up every instance that the United States appears in the same marker as, say, Australia, we can say that the U.S.-Australia dyad occurs with a certain frequency. If we did this for every possible dyad, we could compare the frequency of dyads and get a sense of how often countries’ negotiating positions overlap. The following chart displays the frequency of every possible dyad among the 12 TPP countries. For example, the U.S.-Australia dyad (AU-US) appears 83 times in the leaked text, and is the 43rd most frequent dyad. Note that the order doesn’t matter: a U.S.-Australia dyad is the same as an Australia-U.S. dyad.

chart1

At the very top of this chart, there are some unsurprising dyads: Malaysia-Singapore (136 occurrences), Malaysia-Vietnam (120), Brunei-Vietnam (129), Brunei-Malaysia (128). These are countries whose negotiating positions we would naturally expect to overlap for a combination of geographical, cultural, and political reasons. However, there are also some surprises: the most frequent dyad is Chile-Singapore (140), and third place goes to Chile-New Zealand (132). We might have expected more overlap between the positions of Australia and New Zealand (117), who only rank 16th.

This chart also reveals that there is far less overlap between the United States and countries we might normally consider to be “partners” than one might expect. Indeed, the United States does not even appear on the list until two-thirds of the way down. Out of 66 possible dyads, 42 appear more frequently than the United States appears with anyone. U.S.-New Zealand dyads rank 49th, U.S.-Canada dyads 54th, and U.S.-Japan dyads 59th. This gives us a rough sense that the United States may be relatively isolated in its negotiating position. The same seems to be true of Japan. However, this might partly be due to the fact that the United States and its partners are already in agreement on many intellectual property issues, which leaves only the really thorny ones on the table.

Another approach we can take is to count how often countries appear by themselves, as in the Chagas disease example above. These “sole-country proposals” suggest that no other party is willing to join the first party in support or opposition.

chart2

Counting up sole-country proposals, we might have expected the United States to take first place; in reality, it turns out to be Canada, with the United States and Japan following well behind. Of course, this chart doesn’t tell us what Canada is proposing or opposing on its own. It could well be that Canada is the sole party capable of opposing controversial provisions.

These bar charts are instructive, but make comparisons between more than a few countries difficult. Using network graphs, we can get a sense of the degree to which every TPP country is connected to every other. Furthermore, we can weight the network’s connections according to the number of times country dyads appear in the text. The following chart takes this approach, adding in some colors to make the weighting more obvious:

graph1

It’s immediately apparent that overall, the United States and Japan have the weakest connections to all other countries, while Chile, Malaysia, and Singapore have the strongest. There are surprisingly strong connections between Canada and Vietnam (ranking 23rd overall), New Zealand and Vietnam (30th), and New Zealand and Brunei (31st).

If we limit the network graph to just the TPP countries with large numbers of connections to one another, we effectively zoom in on the core of the network. The following graph eliminates countries below the 75th percentile.

graph2

This graph indicates that the core overlap of negotiating positions currently includes New Zealand, Singapore, Chile, and Malaysia, although the direct connection between New Zealand and Singapore is weaker than the others. If we consider geography, culture, and politics, countries on the outskirts of this network often appear to connect via sensible routes: Mexico through Chile, Australia through New Zealand, and Brunei through Vietnam and Malaysia. Canada’s connection through New Zealand makes sense, though the connection through Malaysia is odd; likewise, Peru via Chile makes sense, but via Singapore is surprising.

Returning to the large network graph, we can include sole-country proposals, which show up as loops connecting a country back to itself. This allows for a direct comparison of the data from the first two bar graphs, and gives us a sense of the degree to which a country is joining with other parties vs. “going it alone.”

graph3

The United States and Japan are still relatively isolated, but we can also see that they’ve made numerous sole-country proposals, perhaps related to their relative isolation. Though Canada has the highest number of sole-country proposals, it also has strong connections to many other countries. Singapore, Peru, Malaysia, and Brunei have so few sole-country proposals that their loops are barely visible.

Finally, to clearly demonstrate that there’s more than just geography at play, we can plot the original network graph on a map.


As we’ve already seen, while geographical proximity accounts for some of the overlap between negotiating positions, there are strong trans-Pacific links between most countries except the United States and Japan.

In summary, what can we conclude from these data?  Canada, with by far the most sole-country proposals, seems like it is up to something.  Perhaps more important, the United States and Japan are relatively isolated in their negotiating positions.  This could bode poorly for the United States as it seeks to shape the TPP to its liking.

(Full disclosure: I’m on Gabriel’s dissertation committee — Henry Farrell.)

Henry Farrell is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University. He works on a variety of topics, including trust, the politics of the Internet and international and comparative political economy.
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