Giraffe and cloudsThat power in the global trading system is shifting east and south is not news. How this will affect geopolitics, and future trade and investment rules, however, is the subject of intense debate. I recently participated in one such debate hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Manama, Bahrain.

The United States, stimulated by its relatively declining global strategic position, is driving two ‘mega-regional’ trade agreements: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). While motivations behind this US strategic thrust are varied, its primary intention is to reassert its primacy over the global trading system through cementing ties in East Asia and Europe, respectively. China is a key reference point, some would say target, of both initiatives.

So what implications does this hold for non-parties’ trade interests? I have been involved in two processes assessing these issues. First, for the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries; and second for South Africa.

The results of the first study, commissioned by the ACP MTS programme for the ACP group, were presented to Geneva-based Ambassadors in January this year. The consulting report has just been formally published by the European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE), with which I am associated. The paper contains a detailed assessment of the potential economic impacts based on a comprehensive literature review; a detailed assessment of the policy and regulatory issues under negotiation in the TPP since it is far advanced; elaboration of three scenarios for how these negotiations may play out; and broad implications for ACP countries.

Related to this I have been working with the South African Institute of International Affairs to sift through the implications of these mega-regionals for South Africa’s trade strategy. This was discussed at SAIIA’s recent public forum on trade policy. The conference report will be uploaded soon, together with the background papers which cover: the systemic implications for South Africa; implications for South Africa’s relations with the BRICS; and implications for South Africa’s regional trade strategy.

This remains an issue at the centre of the global trade agenda. More posts on this will surely follow.