Aprototype of the Pacific free trade zone emerged in the 1970s. Back then, the Philippines, South Korea, Japan and some other Southeast Asian nations were actively expanding cooperation and strengthening their relations with the United States. Those countries demonstrated tangible economic progress in the period of regional stability thanks to the military and economic support of the United States.

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Pacific zone means security and economic growth

Security threats have been somewhat alleviated, and a shift from military-political support to the bolstering of economic interests with a course towards U.S.-style democracy has been on the move. The presence of U.S. weapons in the region has reduced by approximately 10% since the Cold War epoch. Of course, strategic defenses are intact as Washington retains the possibility of rapid and professional protection of its interests in the region whenever that is necessary.

The present-day security strategy of the United States is closely linked to the situation in the Asia Pacific region where even a minor modification has substantial consequences. The presence of the United States effectively balances relations between big regional actors – India, Japan and China. The main task of America for now is to avoid intense rivalry evolving into a confrontation. The United States, India and Japan have signed security agreements for that purpose.

Washington remains concerned about the development of atomic energy technologies and the nuclear program of China. A focal point of America is the security of shipping lanes in the region. Disruptions in the supply of key resources caused by restrictions or blocking of maritime trade are totally unacceptable to the United States. It meets the U.S. interests to encourage a growth of the deterrence potential of Singapore, South Korea and Japan. These states should independently resolve local defense tasks being supported by America in certain areas.

New development course for Pacific region

The new U.S. strategy for the Pacific region has three keynote objectives:

Economic integration of developed states in accordance with free trade principles and laws.

Promotion of Western democracy fundamentals without doing harm to common values.

Enhancement of the military potential keeping the threats and concerns characteristic of the region in mind.

In turn, the new strategy is based on four principles spelled out by Dick Cheney:

The United States continues to strengthen its positions in the Asia Pacific region.

Every bilateral security agreement is extended.

Efficiency and concentration of the military contingent in potentially dangerous zones grow amid the contingent’s reduction.

The defense cooperation format changes to mutual complementarity of member countries.

These principles make it clear that the United States is minimizing costs and carrying on the policy of balance avoiding confrontation, rivalry and arms race between leading countries of the region.

Reducing costs of the military contingent stationed in a relatively stable part of the planet is also dictated by the U.S. active involvement in Middle East conflicts. The policy has yielded a focus on economic matters alongside promoting the idea of the need for independent strengthening of the defense potential by Singapore, South Korea and Japan.

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Brief project history

Barack Obama announced the establishment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) already in 2009. Back then, the United States launched active negotiations with prospective partnership members. South Korea and China expressed their wish to join the project in 2013.

President Obama said during his Asian tour in 2012 that the United States was about to pivot its economy towards Asia because of the rapidly growing role of the region on the global economic scene.

Exports between the United States and Asian countries stood at $698 billion in 2013, which the U.S. Department of Commerce estimated at 44% of the nation’s total exports. Trade with Asia and Oceania is growing rapidly year after year.

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Pacific free trade zone to happen

An agreement on the new association has been signed by the United States, Singapore, Vietnam, Australia, Mexico, Canada, Japan, Brunei, Peru, New Zealand, Malaysia and Chile. The involvement of South Korea in the project remains uncertain but the country is eager to join in. The aforesaid states produce about 40% of the global GDP. The project is tasked to standardize environmental norms and wages and to minimize or partially liquidate existent trade barriers.

In addition to the general positive economic effect from the project, certain groups of producers will have a chance to make a real breakthrough. Companies manufacturing computers and microchips are one of those. Once the agreement is ratified, the data exchange will become a free flow, which will make unnecessary the creation of major server centers in various countries. For such companies as Google this will mean a significant reduction of costs and workforce.

The project has opponents that claim the free trade zone will trigger a swift outflow of labor force from the U.S. labor market.

Yet the global strategic purpose – the need to maintain a certain level of competition with China, which is of primary importance in the Asia Pacific region – nullifies minor flaws. Barack Obama commented on the important event in the country’s life after the agreement was signed and said that America could not afford to let China prescribe the rules of the game on the global economic arena at the time when 95% of potential buyers of U.S. goods lived abroad.

Russia’s reaction

Russian President Vladimir Putin has strongly criticized the TPP project and dubbed that association as another attempt of Washington to build a new model of economic cooperation customized to individual needs. The Russian chief of state thinks the new format of trade and economic relations has no future without the involvement of China and Russia. At the same time, Vladimir Putin positively assessed the alternative project of the Asia Pacific free trade zone promoted by China.

Leading Russian scientists differ over this subject. Prof. Yury Tavrovsky from the People’s Friendship University supports the opinion of the Russian president and thinks that the TPP project has a confrontational nature. In turn, Mikhail Karpov, Associate Professor of the National Research University Higher School of Economics’ East Development Faculty, maintains the opposite viewpoint, thinks that the Russian official position is subjective and denies the confrontational nature of the TPP project.

Adam Novotny