The heads of the TPP negotiating members met on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Beijing to
pretend to hammer out differences and issued a hopeful
statement with “the end coming into focus.”
Well, yes, it must be at least a year since it became obvious that the Obama administration could never offer a done deal before a) he got trade promotion authority (TPA) and b) the November 4 midterm elections were over and done with, which meant that none of the negotiating parties would reveal anything like its bottom line until it was time for the US Congress to convene for its lame-duck session; and several months since conventional wisdom pushed the US showdown to the new year, when the new Congress would convene (so yes, with the new Congress coming into acute focus, we would expect the “end” would “come into focus” too, barring a case of severe temporal myopia). This meant, though, that what the negotiating parties told us were increasingly do-or-die negotiations were little more than negotiators going through a lengthy bird-of-paradise mating dancing act (a birds-of-paradise mating dance, mind you, that is supposed to end in an atypical 12-member clusterfu…) until the moment of truth arrived. And the media and some analysts dutifully played along—while other were completely taken in, oohing and aahing at every twist and turn in the costume play that the negotiators put on.
Mind you, the process has not been without value. Far from it. The mating dance of the bird-of-paradise reveals something very important: the Darwinian fitness of the individual specimens—a very important consideration for procreation purposes. In the case of trade negotiations, it reveals the true concerns of the negotiators and the countries and constituencies that they represent, and builds the trust that make the mutual accommodation of these concerns possible. Moreover, the various permutations of a final agreement will have been examined in excruciating technical details so that the final sprint, once the fundamental blocs of the deal is in place, will be over and done with in a geological nanosecond.
So it goes with the TPP. There is no assurance that the deal will actually go through, though I am (as usual) cautiously optimistic. But for those of you who have been gyrating, knowingly or unknowingly with every twist and turn in the get-togethers of the trade ministers and their minions, I have one message for you: Relax, the wait is over. And for the negotiators: Thank you for providing us with entertainment over the past…oh, say, the past year, at least.