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IN last week’s column about Britain’s accession on March 31 to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership – three years after the nation officially withdrew from the European Union — I mentioned the need to follow up today with comment on the geopolitical aspects.
The CPTPP is a free trade agreement of strategic importance in a rapidly changing political and economic world as China aggressively pursues global hegemony. The US and EU are said to be surprised by its emergence as the world’s most dynamic trade grouping and are gradually realizing its growing international significance.
This trade pact has been described as one of the largest free trade areas in the world, spanning Asia Pacific and the Americas and including a number of leading economies. As well as the UK, it currently comprises eleven countries — Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Britain is the first European nation to join. It is the biggest trade deal the country has ever done and will open up the UK economy to countries creating new global growth. Membership gives unparalleled tariff-free access to a market of some 500 million people and a boost to exports and imports as well as to Britain’s important services sector. With these projected economic benefits, it presents an opportunity for the nation to return to its historical position as the most “globalized” nation in Europe that, since the 18th century, has been a pioneer trader far and wide. As a successful trading nation already, it will now be presented with new opportunities to benefit from the forecast substantial increase in world trade in the coming decades – not least in relation to digital trade which is important to Britain.
Over and above that, the UK’s accession to the CPTPP will have a wider effect than simply a free trade agreement. It will raise the nation’s status and influence in the global economy and will also enhance the G7’s role in contributing to discourse about how to operate the system of global trade. The Pacific bloc is heading towards 20 per cent of global GDP with more countries in the Far East and Latin America intent on joining; for example, Costa Rica, Uruguay, South Korea and Thailand have reportedly applied for membership. It is predicted that by 2030 sixty-five per cent of the world’s 5.4 billion middle class consumers will be in Asia. Thus, the CPTPP is predicted — within perhaps the next decade — to be the world’s largest trading system and increasingly able to set the tone and rules of global commerce.
As such, it is now becoming clear that this group of so-called “middle powers” might dictate the future terms of world trade rather than the US, the EU and China. In particular, any idea of the EU, whose share of global GDP is forecast to drop to about 14 per cent this year, becoming a global regulatory superpower is receding.
It seems that the essential difference between the CPTPP and a bloc like the EU is that the former – while applying strict rules about its trading standards – has a shared objective to make trade as smooth as possible with only limited restrictions, based on the twin principles of mutual recognition and equivalence; and, as well as trade in goods, it is opening up to e-commerce and financial services. The EU, on the other hand, does not accept reciprocation as a governing principle of trade and insists on all its members adopting identical rules and laws.
But perhaps it is not surprising that the EU seeks conformity given that its fundamental aim is ever closer political union. It is now being said that the CPTPP is what the EU should have been as the European Economic Community which was known as the Common Market – that is to say a straightforward free trade area without endless undemocratic rules and progress towards integration as a federal super state.
It seems that Britain’s policy in relation to the CPTPP is based on an assessment that the Indo-Pacific is critical to the nation’s security and economy and its support of a free and open international order that must remain fundamentally stable. According to its government’s recent “Integrated Review”, developments in the region will have a “disproportionate influence on the global economy, supply chains and strategic stability”. In the face of China’s increasing military, diplomatic and economic activity in the region the UK wants to play a role in defining and defending “free and open” and in maintaining a rules-based order with secure shipping routes. Thus there are links with security developments like the AUKUS agreement to develop nuclear-powered submarines. All this represents a continuation of Britain’s post-Brexit policy of a “tilt” towards the Indo-Pacific region which, reportedly, was initiated by former prime minister Boris Johnson.
So the quest for a Global Britain is becoming a reality. Insofar as the UK is not a Pacific nation, its CPTPP membership has changed the nature of the pact to the extent that there is no reason why other such countries should not join too. The big issue now, of course, is China’s potential membership, given that it has formally expressed its desire to accede to the Agreement. But some say it is not fit for membership because its state-owned enterprises under its communist system are not operating on a level playing field. Its mistreatment of the Uyghurs may also enter the equation as a human rights issue. But China could muscle in if the US stays aloof.
Clearly, Britain has just secured a seat at the table where it can contribute to shaping the CPTPP’s development. It now has influence within the bloc and can help to ensure a continuing commitment to a free-market approach. More broadly, it can also use its new membership to promote foreign policy objectives. This looks to be a considerable achievement by British negotiators after two years of talks and it bodes well for Western interests.
FINLAND RANKED THE HAPPIEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD FOR SIXTH TIME
A UK press report last week brought the startling news that “Finland’s joyful streak continues”. Intrigued by this, I discovered that, according to something called the 2023 World Happiness Report, Finland has been ranked the happiest country in the world. This report apparently draws on global survey data from people in some 150 countries and it placed Finland in the top spot for the sixth year in a row, with a happiness score significantly ahead of all other countries.
I do not pretend to have studied the detailed criteria against which the Finns have been assessed. Nonetheless, delving a bit deeper, it appears that they are happy because they not only possess the basic necessities of life in the shape of sufficient resources, enough food and shelter, decent housing, education and employment but also live in close and strong communities, appreciate the benefits of Nature and above all do not compare themselves to people in other countries.
In looking at this, it struck me that, rather than happiness, what this is really about is people’s degree of satisfaction or contentment with what they need on a daily basis in order to live a so-called decent life. So were their levels of individual happiness really being evaluated? I suspect not, because that is strictly a subjective matter that varies with individuals and is not susceptible to measurement against a given set of criteria. Philosophers agree that the quality of true happiness comes from within a person, a product of their own individuality – and from a way of looking at life – rather than from external stimuli in the form of material success, the accumulation of riches, the ephemeral pleasure of physical satisfaction or from simply enjoying the necessities of life.
Throughout history, people have found it hard to explain or describe the meaning of happiness, and this is, of course, too big a subject to debate within the limits of this column. So, far be it for me to pontificate on the subject. Rather, suffice it to say that a cursory study of the subject shows that the importance comes up again and again of giving rather than receiving — both of love and material things — as one of the key elements in finding both contentment and happiness. As the late Sir John Templeton, a long-term resident of The Bahamas, wrote in his admirable book “Discovering the Laws of Life”, some people believe that a satisfying life comes from acquiring and holding on to great wealth. But others maintain it is more rewarding to give of oneself to others. For, as he says, if you yourself want to be happy, make sure you give a measure of happiness to others by helping those in need. He also speaks of avoiding self-absorption and narcissism and of the need for humility.
Yet another significant element of happiness, as enunciated by philosophers, is for people to be satisfied with what they have rather than yearning for what they lack which may be unattainable. So perhaps that earlier reference to Finns not being in the habit of comparing themselves with others has more validity than one might think.
Meanwhile, there is another dimension for Finland in current times which is worth considering. Following the attack on Finnish territory by the Soviet Union at the beginning of the Second World War, the nation has adopted a strict policy of neutrality in international affairs, not least because of its vulnerability arising from a territorial border with Russia of some 800 miles.
However, following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Finland has now changed tack and formally joined NATO, with Sweden soon to follow. Ironically, through his unprovoked action against Ukraine, Putin has precipitated what he claims he was trying to avoid; namely, the expansion of NATO on his borders. Finland’s accession has happened since the World Happiness Report was presumably carrying out its work so the nation’s security may not have been considered. But, given the commitment of NATO members to come to the assistance of any other member state that is the victim of armed aggression, no doubt the Finnish people will now be feeling more secure – and that may well be a factor in future in determining their status as the happiest people in the world!
A MASTERS TOURNAMENT TO REMEMBER
At this time of year, people marvel at the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia which is the first major golf championship of the season. It is the only one amongst the four majors which is played on the same course every year.
Many consider it is the pre-eminent event in the world’s golfing calendar where victory is the pinnacle of golfing achievement.
People are often surprised to learn that the Augusta National Golf Club is not the top ranked course in the world. But it is undeniable that the beauty of the surroundings and high standard of maintenance are exceptional. The setting and organization are unmatched and for golf lovers there can be nothing to beat watching the final day of the tournament on a Sunday afternoon and in the deepening shadows of early evening, invariably in conditions of high drama. The past weekend was no exception as golf fans were enthralled by the closing stages of this year’s Masters.
Weather delays on Friday and Saturday meant a marathon final day with some players finishing their third rounds on Sunday morning. Drama developed gradually during Sunday afternoon in what appeared to be a duel between the two leaders. But one of the pre-tournament favourites and eventual winner by four strokes, Jon Rahm, tightened his grip over his main rival and playing partner in the last group. The American Brooks Koepka slowly faded after leading the field for much of the tournament. Rahm’s victory made him the fourth Spaniard to win the Masters and returned him to his world number one ranking.
This year’s tournament contained so many other dramas – for example, to name just a few, the chaos arising from the brutal wet and cold weather that forced several suspensions of play, the participation of 18 players from the rival LIV Golf League and the withdrawal of Tiger Woods due to injury after having successfully made the cut. But for those from across the pond the worst happening was Irishman Rory McIlroy’s failure to make the cut. After his strong performance as runner-up in 2022, he was fancied by many to win this year and fulfill his dream of completing the career grand slam that has so far eluded him. But it was not to be.
So this was another splendid and captivating Masters tournament in front of large crowds and with a huge TV audience of golfing aficionados — and it bears repeating that even those with little interest in golf will surely acknowledge the high quality and impeccable organization of this most famous of sporting events in America.