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Along The Watchtower

Wednesday, 15 November 2017 | MYT 12:00 AM

A zombie pact with few benefits

CAN dead creatures be revived? They can’t, but they surely can appear to be, if only for a while.

In Hakodate in Hokkaido, Japan, there is a famous dish called Katsu ika odori-don, which literally means “dancing squid rice bowl”.

The bowl is filled with rice and an assortment of meats and vegetables, topped by a freshly killed squid – minus its mantle or body, leaving only a stump and tentacles.

This is not a dish for the squeamish or those who can’t stomach animal cruelty. After serving, the chef splashes soy sauce over the cuttlefish, causing it to “come alive” and wriggle around on top of the bowl.

Diners who are amused by the “dancing squid” have no problems biting and chewing the tentacles, even while they are still squirming.

But how does it move, even after the brain and body is removed?

The cephalopod’s cells contain adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a compound comprising an adenosine molecule bonded to three phosphate groups present in living tissues. The break of one linkage leads to muscular contractions and expansions.

ATP needs electrical impulses from the central nervous system to be activated and without a functioning brain, it lies dormant and eventually breaks down.

But sodium chloride (salt) and potassium can also trigger the process.

So, like magic, a few dashes of soy sauce which contains the ions of both elements can make a dead squid “dance”, albeit briefly.

Let’s look at another creature which took 10 years to grow before it was swiftly slain by a new head chef, but has been revived for the moment.

I’m referring to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which evolved into the TPP-11 after the United States withdrew. It has since been rebranded as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPATTP).

It may be a bizarre comparison, but a cephalopod is a creature which has its “legs” attached to its head. In Greek, it means “head-footed” – as in the “feet” or tentacles are attached to the head rather than the body.

When US President Donald Trump signed an executive order to formally quit the original 12-nation pact covering nearly two-fifths of the global economy, it looked dead in the water.

Symbolically, TPP was a headless creature without the US. However, Japan took the initiative to revive the agreement, supported by Australia.

Despite the rhetoric and lofty ideals, the original TPP was geared at containing China and rewriting the rules of global trade as determined by the US and powerful corporate lobbyists in Washington.

Minus the US, it was just another pact aimed at countering China’s eco­­­­nomic influence promoted through Asean’s Regional Compre­hensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) initiative.

When Canada threw a spanner in the works on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum in Vietnam last Friday, it surely looked like the second collapse of the deal.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau failed to show up for a meeting with the other 10 leaders for the much-anticipated signing of the revised pact sans the US.

But after a lot of spite and undiplomatic language against Canada, the TPP arose from death, yet again.

Trudeau admitted some progress on the deal’s framework but said more work was needed.

Trade ministers of the 11 countries issued a statement on Saturday claiming the “core elements” of the CPATPP had been agreed upon.

They suspended 20 clauses in the original text, which were included at the insistence of Washington in exchange for access to the US market.

Eleven were on intellectual property rights, one of the key contentious areas, covering both patent and copyright periods.

Under the initial deal, pharmaceutical companies could keep their formulas secret for 12 years, but this was later reduced to between five and seven years.

This does not change the fact that poorer people in developing countries would not have access to some drugs during the period.

Another prickly point is the special rights given to foreign investors to bypass national courts and sue governments in international tribunals under the Investor-State Dis­pute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism.

It is no secret that the more than 6,000 pages of text under the 30 chapters contain legalese that obscures their meaning and makes it difficult for ordinary people to understand.

After the latest salvage, Vietnam’s trade minister Tran Tuan Anh said the negotiators had reached consensus on “a number of fundamental parts” while his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi said the differences had been “narrowed down”.

But little has been said to dispute the perception that the main beneficiaries of the TPP are giant multinational corporations and rich investors.

To put it briefly, for most of its members, the costs of being in the zombie pact outweigh its benefits.

As prominent economist Jomo Kwame Sundaram (who served as assistant secretary-general for Eco­nomic Development at the United Nations) noted, membership provides very little gain to Malaysia in terms of likely trade growth.

He said the pro-TPP reports commissioned by the Government were mainly premised on access to the US market, which was no longer on offer. Instead, onerous aspects, such as enhanced intellectual property rights and ISDS, remain – threatening national and public interest.

To use an old English phrase, the CPATTP is a damp squib – a thing that fails to satisfy expectations, an anti-climax to what was touted.

The mining term for a dud explosive is often mispronounced as “damp squid”.

In the case of TPP-11, which has been rendered meaningless without US participation, both descriptions fit.

Media consultant M. Veera Pandiyan likes this Spanish proverb: Better a friendly refusal than an unwilling consent.