Gordon Campbell on the TPP finishing line, and Amazon’s woes

If the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal wasn’t such a serious matter, this would be pretty funny. Here’s Trade Minister Tim Groser on RNZ this morning:

The finish line for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement is in sight after talks in Australia over the weekend, Trade Minister Tim Groser says.

And here’s the Japanese media report on the very same TPP meeting in Sydney:

After meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman on Monday morning on the margin of the plenary session, TPP minister Akira Amari said the finish line for their bilateral talks is not yet in sight…

Clearly, if these guys can’t even get their clichés in order, no wonder they’re having trouble around the negotiating table. Oh, and that old standby ‘significant progress’ was made on the weekend at the Sydney talks, says Groser. A while ago, I summarised the number of times that ‘significant progress’ has been made, even though – like Zeno’s arrow – things never quite reach the target.

Let’s revisit some of those “significant progress” milestones:
September 2011 (from the MFAT website):
The eighth round of TPP negotiations wrapped up in Chicago after 10 days of intensive discussions. The New Zealand team and our partners were focused on the twin goals of negotiating a high-quality, 21st-century TPP outcome and meeting TPP Ministers’ desire for the “broad outlines” of an agreement by APEC in November [2011] ‘Significant progress’ was made toward both of those goals in Chicago.

July 2012
The United States said “significant progress” was made in talks aimed at creating an ambitious trade agreement with eight other Pacific Rim countries. US officials said areas discussed included customs, telecommunications, cross-border services and government procurement.

August 2012
The United States and its fellow Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) members are making ‘significant progress’ toward concluding a comprehensive trade deal set to boost economies and create jobs throughout the Asia-Pacific region, according to Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis…

September 2012
The Trade Ministers of the countries negotiating the extension to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)…have pointed to the ‘significant progress’ on many of the 29 chapters under negotiation…

July 2013
Media Statement after the TPP round in Kota Kinabulu: “…Although significant progress was made during the 18th Round, there are still a number of issues that require further work. We are now entering a stage where negotiators have to deal with the more difficult and sensitive issues.” [Really? So soon?]

October, 2013
The leaders of the dozen countries negotiating a potentially transformative Pacific Rim trade pact said yesterday that they had made ‘significant progress’ towards a deal and charged officials with wrapping it up by the end of the year.

October 2013
[US Trade Representative Mike Froman] said….negotiators had made ‘significant progress’ in Bali on the Pacific trade pact talks.

May 2014
Australian government sources reported that ‘ significant progress’ had been made at talks held between 12-15 May in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

September 2014
[Last month in Hanoi, we got a breakthrough: a change of TPP clichés!] This time “important progress” was made at the TPP talks held in Hanoi. Yet in Sydney, we’re back again to ‘significant progress.’ Same script, same narrative arc – boys pursue trade deal, boys always find it disappearing, alluringly, into the fog, no matter how hard they paddle towards it. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about it in The Great Gatsby, quite some time ago.

One of the odder comments by Groser about that elusive TPP finish line was that while it was “in sight” there was no guarantee that New Zealand would be crossing over it. Really? After all the time and energy he’s devoted to clinching a deal? It sounded more like an admission that the deal in its current shape simply doesn’t contain enough by way of dairy tariff reductions for New Zealand to justify the trade-offs we are being asked to make. Any way you look at it, Groser wasn’t issuing a “victory is just over the next hill” rallying call to the troops. Likewise, Japan’s TPP Minister wasn’t sounding exactly upbeat about the prospects for a final push:

Asked whether a TPP summit meeting will take place in Beijing, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in November, Amari said nothing has been discussed yet.

Trouble in Amazonia
While the book publishing trade, authors and the tax collecting agencies in most developed countries bewail the juggernaut that is Amazon, there is trouble in the Empire of Bezos. Amazon has just recorded a whopping loss in its operations, as Bloomberg News reported last week:

The net loss of $437 million is more than 10 times larger than last year’s loss. Revenue growth missed forecasts. The Firefly phone was a flop. And the cloud computing division, Amazon Web Services grew, but only after the company slashed prices.

Amazon’s past looked bad, and the future looked worse. The company warned that revenue next quarter would be a disappointment too. Analysts had predicted 20 percent revenue growth for the period, which includes the big holiday shopping season. Amazon said that it would actually grow between 7 percent and 18 percent, preparing Wall Street for anything from a near-miss to an utter disaster.

Bloomberg takes Amazon’s woes as a sign of just how shaky the US recovery from the GFC may still be. For now, the US economy simply isn’t rebounding in the way it has after previous recessions:

Consumer sentiment has improved since the recession, but it’s still lower than it was before the financial crisis, and the Census Bureau shows that median household incomes have stagnated in about three quarters of the states.

As Goldman Sachs noted in a recent report, “Seven years after the start of the crisis, growth continues to lag previous recoveries quite sharply … even in the U.S. (which has been out of recession for five years), growth is tracking below equivalent points in past economic recoveries.”

Jimmy Rodgers in Africa
Jimmy Rodgers (1897-1933) not only laid the foundation of what we now know as country music before dying of TB, but his influence had reached Kenya as well by the late 1940s. Around that time, two young girls from the Kipsigis tribe from part of the Rift Valley province recorded this fantastic tribute to Rodgers called “Chemirocha” which is a reasonable phonetic approximation of his name. (‘Jambo Mirocha’ would probably have been a closer fit as a title.)

The girls were recorded by the great Hugh Tracey, a white farmer whose sheer love of the music led him into recording a huge swathe of African music that would otherwise have been lost. The great thing about “Chemirocha” was explained by Tracey in a voice over (on the 10 inch vinyl) not included in this Youtube clip. Basically, the girls made Jimmy Rodgers part of the local religious framework. As Tracey put it in his intro: “The mysterious singer and dancer Chemirocha has been turned into a local god Pan — a faun — half man, half antelope. He is urged by the girls to do the leaping dance, familiar to all Kipsigis, so energetically that he will jump clear out of his clothes… Who could resist such an offer?” Indeed.

ENDS