Two maestros of U-turn, one stocky man with deeply furrowed face and thick bushy eyebrows, shepherding a powerful and resourceful country and the other with a well-toned physique and handsome and charming features from a developing South Asian state met in the most imposing structure standing since centuries in the middle of the Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s designed city called the ‘White House’ and, burying the hatchet, had almost blisters on their tongues talking about a new-found love for each other. The host, normally imposing and bullish, seemed well toned and eager to rope in his guest to do him a favour that would prolong his occupation of that most sought-after House for other four years. The historic events, physically far from his country, were taking a new curve and, in their own way, making the most powerful man of the world, realize the inadequacy of his power in extricating with honour and dignity from the rugged and impoverished territory of ferocious tribes in South- West Asia, historically known as the ‘Graveyard of Empires’.
The host, in his awe-inspiring demeanor, sitting in a subdued position and, in an odd mélange of mild talk and flattery, was seeking this service from his guest settled upright in his chair listening with amusement and feeling grateful to heavens for having situated his country in a prime geo-strategic position that no power on earth from the vanquished British Empire to Tzars and Uncle Sam with economic and strategic interests in the region could easily discard. The big boss took long two years to recognize the centrality of the country of his guest after chiding and foul mouthing it to the fill of his heart at the behest of some clownish characters from the region.
He had thrown his long stick in a corner of the House, and was only dangling carrots recalling the salivating eagerness of his previous guests for the ‘Green Pack’. He realized soon this time round he was dealing with a different man with pride, patriotism, integrity, courage and modesty seething like a wild fire in his veins. In a sober way, a loud and clear message came in from him that he wants trade and not aid. The big boss was taken aback quietly gazing at his guest in disbelief, and slowly veered to talking about the expansion of trade and, as is his wont, spontaneously and instantaneously promised to increase damned trade by 20 times or at least 10 times more than the current volume of $6.6 billion. This was a good attempt in netting his incredulous interlocutor but was an incredibly tall promise made by the big boss known to his friends and foes alike for unorthodox, unpredictable and inconsistent ways in dealing with his guests and state affairs overruling his established institutions. His guest had to take him at his word convincing himself that being in dire need of help he would go ahead with what he would promise.
This vast and prosperous country with the biggest economy of the world, the holder of the biggest foreign exchange reserves and the biggest trading partner of all the major economies around the world can uplift this developing partner from South Asia from rugs to the new heights of prosperity and economic stability by opening a few vistas of trade relaxing restrictions on its textiles, lowering tariffs on some items or giving it a preferential treatment by concluding a free trade agreement. If the big boss, in his magnanimity or in reciprocity of the favour he was seeking, would keep his promise of expanding commercial exchanges by 20 times, the two-way windfall will touch $140billion. This figure is fabulous enough to give goose bumps to friends and foes alike particularly the one in the East, currently engaged in promoting communalism of Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Madan Mohen Malaviya, which does not leave a single opportunity to go unavailed of in undermining its small but proud and tenacious neighbour. The big boss will have to restrain it.
The big boss would think plenty of times to take a U-turn this time knowing that his guest also is an admirer of John Locke who had proclaimed to the pleasure of many statesmen that ‘consistency is a virtue of small minds’ and would take no time in beating retreat from what he was going to do to tame the ferocious militia tribes and seek their consent for a safe passage to the withdrawing forces of Uncle Sam. Certainly for the sake of their honesty as two gentlemen, and their credibility as representatives of two states, they would have to be consistent this time in what they promised to each other.
The big boss is having trade disputes with a number of allies and rivals. His promise, in the too-recent past, to have truce in trade war with the rising dragon of Xi Jinping from the Southeast Asia, remains unfulfilled. The talks on this count are not forging ahead giving rise to speculations that neither party is eager for a deal. He also promised an ally from the Island in the Pacific Ocean in East Asia – the country of the suave and courteous Shinzo Abe, to thrash out trade disputes and sign a deal in September this year during the grand session of the hapless comity of nations in New York. The big boss is desperate to provide relief to his farmers who have been hard hit by his uncalled for protectionism. It is believed that the farmers’ lobby wields greater influence in his country. As heavens know the rising dragon is one of the largest markets for Uncle Sam’s agricultural exports like soybeans, cotton and pork. The trade war with this rival has painfully impacted the producers of these agricultural commodities.
The big boss, in his brash way, tried to pulverize well-functional deals and partnerships, perplexing and angering friends and alarming competitors. No deal or partnership escaped his juggernaut right from NATO to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, North American Free Trade Agreement, Trans-Atlantic Partnership (TTP) and Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). His withdrawal from the Pacific Partnership deprived Uncle Sam’s exporters of additional market access in friendly countries like Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam and other countries that signed onto the TPP marching ahead in unison without Uncle Sam and renaming it Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
In the trade dispute with the rising dragon, Uncle Sam’s agricultural exports have already fallen from $19.6billion in 2017 to $9.3billion last year. Soybean exports to this country – where every other dish needs soy sauce – alone have dropped from more than $10billion to $3.1billion. The circumstances surrounding the trade dispute between Uncle Sam and the rising dragon show that the stalemate in commercial exchanges would go longer to the peril of the hapless farmers.
The CPTPP poses a big problem to Uncle Sam’s farmers because the country of suave Shinzo Abe is even a larger market for US agricultural exports than the rising dragon. Abe is trying to convince the big boss who, in his maiden meeting, had almost strangulated this diminutive man, to rejoin the salvaged TPP. To advance this possibility, he has declined to oblige him with a broad bilateral trade agreement like he wants including services, intellectual property protection and investment. The possibility of such an agreement ending up in conflict with the TPP is not ruled out by Mr. Abe. He accords high priority to an agreement which is consistent with TPP and World Trade Organization rules for which the big boss has always shown a strong aversion. Abe, mustering all his skills, has been resisting a deal addressing agricultural barriers only.
For the time being, the big boss is stuck in his disgruntled constituency – the Agricultural community. He is desperately trying to strike agriculture-only agreement with his friend, Mr. Shinzo. Nevertheless, there is remote possibility of such an agreement for the time being. It would be difficult for Mr. Abe to sell this agreement politically at home. His country being the bigger importer of Uncle Sam’s agricultural commodities, the agreement would be lopsided harming his country’s interests. The most likely prediction is that the big man’s administration would eventually be compelled to hand out $28billion in compensation to farmers hard hit by the trade war with the rising dragon for 2018 and 2019. He can afford this huge payment as a result of his wrong decision. This reminds me of the wrong decision taken by our leaders in the Reko Diq case knocking us down with a fine of $5.9billion.
The problem of the big boss does not end here. Some farmers are not eligible for payments and others seem disgruntled to accept aid. They want trade. The mandarin in the Foreign Office who oversaw the brief for Prime Minister Imran Khan must have had a leaf from the demands of Uncle Sam’s farmers. The other option with the big boss is to take a U-turn biting the bullet and exempt Mr. Shinzo’s automobile exports from any new tariff in exchange for increased access for his agricultural commodities.
Despite all these skeletons rattling in his cupboard, the big boss promised to increase trade with us by 20 times or 10 times keeping a leeway for himself. We welcome it. Surely, he would not find us lacking in sincerely and honestly gripping his extended hand in this renewed friendship based on shared political, economic and strategic interests. We are a determined nation of 200 million people and inheritors of an old civilization which had once flourished mightily on the banks of River Indus. We seek friendship and peace in our region and the world over. By this time, the big boss and his colleagues must have noticed it from the tumultuous welcome the Americans of Pakistan origin accorded to Prime Minister Khan. He has rekindled hopes in his nation and deserves help of his people and his friends abroad.
Disclaimer: Surkhiyan believes in freedom of expression and providing space for views and opinions from all sides. But we may not agree with everything we publish. The views expressed in this op-ed are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Surkhiyan. We do not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.