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  • TPP at the End of the Line:A Briefing on Economic Cooperation and Capacity Building
  • Arnie Saiki (bio)

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is at the end of a supply-chain narrative, constructed long before the cooperation and capacity building of international institutions like the World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Trade, militarization, and entente have enforced supply chains even before the manufacturing and production demands of industries and corporations nourished the insatiable appetite of consumers. Just as the history of empire is inseparable from military campaigns and entente, the supply-chain narrative begins with the building of civilization, inextricably linked to our hunger over resources, our quest for new routes in transport and trade.

Discussions over the benefits and disadvantages of supply chains do not revolve around whether trade and globalization are good things or bad. They just are. It is like the continuity of the day: we awake and we meander, sometimes discussing events that nestle into the world, and the policies designed for bolstering that understanding. How we imagine our place in the global supply chain, wandering through things that have been made manifest by our collective conceit of trade and consumption, informs nearly every facet of our lives.

It may be easier to identify what globalization is not, rather than what it is. In doing so, even while musing over our most basic animal functions like eating, shitting, and fucking, we will find our behavior shifting toward becoming a transactional part of the supply chain rather than remaining aligned to the natural evolution of our planet. If we consider trade and commerce as informing the body of civilization, something rooted in the transport of goods, services, and ideas, then for millennia we have been organizing ourselves farther and farther away from the natural world toward the hypercommodification of an economic collective, which is perhaps how globalization ought to be defined.

Globalization has even blurred the boundaries of our national identities. What we have left of the nation-state is a specter, and as for discourse, how we [End Page 501] define our nation may now be determined more by the hocus-pocus and image marketing of corporate governance than by what Antonio Gramsci unpacks as the historically organic ideology of our national narrative.1

It is within the twentieth-century postwar American imagination that globalization enters as a new historical narrative. Tacit to the key resolutions of the United Nations Charter, cooperation and capacity building reinforce the rules of commerce and trade and legitimize the rule-making authority of international institutions. Joseph Stiglitz writes, “We cannot go back on globalization; it is here to stay. The issue is how we can make it work. And if it is to work, there have to be global public institutions to help set the rules.”2 What these rules look like and how they are shaped had previously been the agenda of resource-hungry colonizing administrations. But after the breakdown of the nineteenth-century treaty system and the trauma of two world wars, new rules had to be enforced: rules ensuring peace and human rights; regulatory and protective measures over labor, health, and the environment; and the management of public systems embedded in our constitutions, charters, and statues as “general welfare.”

These rules and regulations are integral to the deep political and economic ties of cooperation. Historically, after the 1946 ratification of the United Nations, President Harry Truman made the audacious move of reversing the pact of internationalism by promoting economic cooperation with the Marshall Plan. New development infrastructure was promoted alongside a free trade agenda that competed with the Soviet Union, whose influence in the UN General Assembly had been growing as a result of its support for decolonization and the liberation of oppressed peoples from the old administering powers.

Union workers, too, particularly members of the international transport unions, used the strike at ports and docks as an enforcement mechanism to promote the rights of workers and the liberation of territories. In 1949, just a year after the Marshall Plan went into effect, the US State Department and Department of Labor, along with the American Federation of Labor, and the...


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pp. 501-512
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