Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
November 14, 2020

The Huge New Trade Deal 'Western' Media Do Not Like To Talk About

Tomorrow a new trade agreement between 15 Asian states will be signed. It will soon be seen as a milestone in the global economic history. But only very few 'western' media have taken note of it or of the huge consequences the new agreement will have.

The agreement is also a huge victory for China over U.S. hegemony in Asia:

Fifteen Asia-Pacific nations including China and Japan plan to sign the world’s biggest free trade deal this weekend. The FTA will cut tariffs, strengthen supply chains with common rules of origin, and codify new e-commerce rules.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is expected to be announced at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, which Vietnam is hosting virtually. It will involve the ten member states of the ASEAN bloc – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – as well as their trade partners Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea.

The new economic bloc will thus represent around a third of the world’s gross domestic product and population.

It will become the first-ever free trade agreement to include China, Japan, and South Korea – Asia’s first, second and fourth-largest economies.

The economies of the RCEP members are growing faster than the rest of the world. The agreement is likely to accelerate their growth.


India is the only country that was invited but is missing in the deal. Its Hindu-fascist Modi regime had bet on the U.S. led anti-Chinese QUAD initiative pressed for by Trump and Pompeo and thereby lost out in trade terms:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks at the 17th ASEAN-India Summit on November 12 makes sad reading. It comes in the specific context of the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership [RCEP] on Sunday — the mega free trade agreement centred on the ASEAN plus China, Japan and South Korea.

Modi avoided mentioning RCEP, although it signifies a joyful occasion in ASEAN’s life as much as Diwali is for an Indian. He instead took detours — ‘Make in India’, ‘Act East Policy’, ‘Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative’, ‘ASEAN centrality’.
To be sure, RCEP heralds the dawn of a new post-Covid regional supply chain. As a new RCEP supply chain takes shape, India has not only excluded itself but is unwittingly facilitating its “arch enemy” China to become the principal driver of growth in the Asia-Pacific.

On the other hand, extra-regional economic ties cease to be a priority for the ASEAN, in relative importance. There isn’t going to be any takers in the Asia-Pacific region for even a partial US-China “decoupling”. The RCEP is in reality an ASEAN-led initiative, which is built on the foundation of the six ASEAN+1 FTAs and it secures ASEAN’s position at the heart of regional economic institutions.

The U.S. Pivot to Asia, launched under the Obama administration, as well as the anti-Chinese 'decoupling' initiatives by the Trump administration have thereby failed.

One would have expected that such a gigantic trade agreement with its extensive geopolitical consequences would find some echo in the U.S. media. But a search for 'RCEP' on the site of the New York Times finds only one mention from 2017. It is about a letter five U.S. ambassadors had sent to warn of the demise of the Transpacific Trade Agreement, an Obama initiative that excluded China:

The partnership, called the TPP, was a hallmark of the Obama administration. It would have been one of the largest trade agreements in history, covering about 40 percent of the world’s economy and setting new terms and standards for trade for the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations. China was not included but would have been able to join.
In their letter, the ambassadors warn that “walking away from TPP may be seen by future generations as the moment America chose to cede leadership to others in this part of the world and accept a diminished role.”

“Such an outcome would be cause for celebration among those who favor ‘Asia for the Asians’ and state capitalism,” it added.

The Ambassadors were right. But domestic U.S. policies (and resistance to 'liberalization' from Asian countries) did not allow for such an agreement to happen:

The 2016 presidential race was shaped by anti-globalization trends. Donald J. Trump promised to destroy the pact if he became president. Hillary Clinton also denounced it, even though she supported a form of it as secretary of state.

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, said after the election in November that Congress would not take it up. That meant it was dead.

The RCEP is less controversial in Asia than the U.S. centric TPP would have been:

Unlike the TPP, or Trans-Pacific Partnership, and other U.S.-led trade deals, the RCEP doesn’t require its members to take steps to liberalize their economies and protect labor rights, environmental standards and intellectual property. U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has called it a “very low-grade treaty” that lacks the scope of the TPP. But RCEP’s imminent implementation illustrates America’s diminished clout and could make it harder for U.S. businesses to compete in the vast region.

While it has less regulations and 'liberalization' requirements than the U.S. had wanted to sneak into the TTP deal the RCEP is still comprehensive enough to have huge effects:

Malaysian Trade Minister Azmin Ali, who told reporters the deal would be signed on Sunday, called it the culmination of “eight years of negotiating with blood, sweat and tears.”

First proposed in 2011, RCEP will eliminate as much as 90 percent of the tariffs on imports between its signatories within 20 years, and the deal will come into effect by early as next year. It will also establish common rules for e-commerce, trade, and intellectual property.

“China has pulled off a diplomatic coup in dragging RCEP over the line,” Shaun Roache, Asia-Pacific chief economist at S&P Global Ratings, told Bloomberg. “While RCEP is shallow, at least compared to TPP, it is broad, covering many economies and goods, and this is a rarity in these more protectionist times.”

Asian countries will now preferably trade with other Asian countries and every non-Asian country will have to trade with them on only secondary terms.

Yet a news search finds that the upcoming RCEP signing only got a short mention on CNBC, one Bloomberg explainer and a short Reuters piece.

It seems that U.S. media are unhappy to report on such an immense victory for China and the demise of the U.S. position in the world.

Posted by b on November 14, 2020 at 17:21 UTC | Permalink

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The treaty has now been signed and it does make world news. So while it does mean something that it drew little attention before today I would not make that much of it. Bernard may be able to say 'I got it early' but should not conclude that therefore the others are trying to sweep it under the rug.

Posted by: Tuyzentfloot | Nov 15 2020 22:52 utc | 101

1990. China’s economy has come to a halt. The Economist
1996. China’s economy will face a hard landing. The Economist
1998. China’s economy’s dangerous period of sluggish growth. The Economist
1999. Likelihood of a hard landing for the Chinese economy. Bank of Canada
2000. China currency move nails hard landing risk coffin. Chicago Tribune
2001. A hard landing in China. Wilbanks, Smith & Thomas
2002. China Seeks a Soft Economic Landing. Westchester University
2003. Banking crisis imperils China. New York Times
2004. The great fall of China? The Economist
2005. The Risk of a Hard Landing in China. Nouriel Roubini
2006. Can China Achieve a Soft Landing? International Economy
2007. Can China avoid a hard landing? TIME
2008. Hard Landing In China? Forbes
2009. China’s hard landing. China must find a way to recover. Fortune
2010: Hard landing coming in China. Nouriel Roubini
2011: Chinese Hard Landing Closer Than You Think. Business Insider
2012: Economic News from China: Hard Landing. American Interest
2013: A Hard Landing In China. Zero Hedge
2014. A hard landing in China. CNBC
2015. Congratulations, You Got Yourself A Chinese Hard Landing. Forbes
2016. Hard landing looms for China. The Economist
2017. Is China’s Economy Going To Crash? National Interest
2018. China’s Coming Financial Meltdown. The Daily Reckoning.
2019 China’s Economic Slowdown: How worried should we be? BBC
2020. Coronavirus Could End China’s Decades-Long Economic Growth Streak. NY Times
29/06/2020 China’s Financial System Is Running Out of Room,Bloomberg
21/07/2020 China Is Getting Closer to Its Lehman Moment. Anjani Trivedi and Shuli Ren Bloomberg

Posted by: foolisholdman | Nov 15 2020 22:59 utc | 102

That last post was supposed to be in reply to Willy2 | Nov 15 2020 18:33 utc | 81.

Posted by: foolisholdman | Nov 15 2020 23:08 utc | 103

Cyril @94&5--

As I've commented upon for years, GDP as enumerated within the Outlaw US Empire vastly overstates reality since its includes negatives that ought to reduce GDP as positives increasing it--the pandemic is an excellent example of a massive negative being counted for GDP purposes as a positive. Shadowstats provides the closest look at what Real GDP is, which is 3-5% lower than the official figure, but is likely worse since some important numbers are omitted as Hudson consistently intones. Plug-in those negative numbers and Real GDP hasn't grown since the GHW Bush recession, which was Greenspan's fault from his mishandling the Fed in the wake of the first massive financial fraud scandal caused by Neoliberalistic practices. You might remember this quip about the so-called Clinton Recovery: Wow! Look at all the jobs Clinton's created! Yeah, I've got three of them! Somewhat later, a very important book was published that examined the later Clinton years, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich, that verified that quip as being very close to reality. And it was during Clinton's time that structural unemployment for the 45+ age group started to become the massive problem it is today.

On China's Digital Economy, this has to do with commerce that occurs 100% in the digital sphere, except for physical delivery of the product. This article will give you an overview. You're correct about such commerce bypassing SWIFT. But what China is focused on is complete digitization of its money--there are several urban areas where you don't need to use cash in any transactions--you pay using your smart phone. This article is a bit dated, but you'll get the idea. I know more up-to-date figures are available and reinforce what's provided. IMO, the participation rate in the digital economy by Chinese citizens also represents a big vote of confidence in China's system as complete trust is being placed in its reliability and trustworthiness, a capacity very few citizens of the Outlaw US Empire or any other Neoliberal system share. Even US-based business shares that confidence in China's system as the linked articles and many others portray.

The massive fraud inherent in the Outlaw US Empire's and all other Neoliberal systems is why a similar digitization will be fiercely resisted as the citizenry in those nations have very many reasons not to trust a banking system whose business model is steeped in fraud.

Posted by: karlof1 | Nov 15 2020 23:24 utc | 104

- Yeah, the usual claptrap. "We owe the debt to ourselves so it doesn't matter" right ?
- China's external debt is indeed (much) smaller than that of the US. That's no surprise because the US has been running Trade & Current Account Deficits for decades and that leads to a higher external debt.

Posted by: Willy2 | Nov 16 2020 0:46 utc | 105

Willy2 @104--

Do you know what a Balance Sheet is? When you write off debt owed to yourself, you increase total Equity while leaving Assets unchanged. It doesn't harm you in the least!

Posted by: karlof1 | Nov 16 2020 0:57 utc | 106

@ Posted by: Willy2 | Nov 16 2020 0:46 utc | 104

I'm not saying it doesn't matter, just that the situation is not as catastrophic as you painted in your last comment (worse than SE Asia).

China's debt is high, but we're not talking about a terminal cancer situation like Japan's.

Posted by: vk | Nov 16 2020 1:22 utc | 107

One of the most interesting aspects is Modi's refusal to join the RCEP because of the protectionism of India's inefficient industry and Washington's order to boycott all integration efforts in southern Asia.
Come on, even Australia, Japan and South Korea have understood where the winds of future progress are blowing.

Posted by: gabriel moyssen | Nov 16 2020 2:02 utc | 108

@karlof1 (nr. 105):

Yes, I know what a Balancesheet is and what it represents. I am wondering whether you have any knowledge of double entry bookkeeping ?

Because in your example you don't owe the debt to yourself, you owe it to someone else (e.g. bank, etc). If you write off the debt in your example then only the amount of debt (on the credit side of the ledger/balance sheet) decreases but the asset on the debit side of the ledger stays the same. The result is that the amount of Equity (on the credit side of the ledger/balance sheet) increases by the amount the debt decreases.

If "owing debt to oneself" was possible then we would see the following: 1) A debt on the credit side of the balance sheet (say $ 1000) 2) an asset (the debt here is the asset) on the debit side of the Balance Sheet of also $ 1000. If we would write off the debt in this case then 1) on the debit side total assets would shrink by $ 1000 2) the total amount of debts would also decrease by the same $ 1000. This would also mean that the amount of equity wouldn't grow at all.

Posted by: Will2 | Nov 16 2020 2:52 utc | 109

@karlof1 (nr. 105):
@Vk (nr. 106):

Debts don't matter as long as the debtor is able to pay principal & interest on that load/debt. But as soon as income (wages, revenues, taxes, etc) of the debtor (Household, government, company, etc.) starts to shrink then the size of the debt starts to matter.

And that's the case right now in Australia. According to a reliable source currently some 41% of australian households who have a mortgage are in "mortgage stress". I.e. these households have a mortgage and the amount of money going out (for all sorts of costs, including principal & interest on that mortgage) is higher than their income. And this % has risen from 25% in late 2016 to (the afore mentioned) 41% (september 2020).

Posted by: Willy2 | Nov 16 2020 3:10 utc | 110


In a debt based system there is Always a debtor and a creditor. And these 2 persons are NOT the same persons.

If the debtor would be the same as the creditor ("we owe it to ourselves") then why create the debt in the first place. Then there wouldn't be any debts at all.

Posted by: Willy2 | Nov 16 2020 3:21 utc | 111

William Gruff @ 75 & 77 -- Appreciate muchly your sane words. Still remembering your analogy of the passing Chinese ship offering assistance to the US ship limping along, adrift in the open ocean, which not only refused Asian help, but heaped insults. And so the OBOR ship sailed on, with the other RCEP ships in formation.

Posted by: kiwiklown | Nov 16 2020 3:26 utc | 112

foolisholdman @ 101 -- Nothing foolish there. Pure eloquence. Wow.

Posted by: kiwiklown | Nov 16 2020 3:28 utc | 113

@karlof1 | Nov 15 2020 23:24 utc | 103

But what China is focused on is complete digitization of its money--there are several urban areas where you don't need to use cash in any transactions--you pay using your smart phone.

The digital economy is worth a try. But I am glad that only a few cities are testing it so all the bugs can be fixed.

Some humans will be needed to administer the system, and these people will have power -- if the system spreads throughout the country, maybe as much power as the Federal Reserve has in the US. I've no idea how China plans to stop corruption in the top administrators.

A wise government will install some safeguards, no doubt. But if they can solve the age-old problem of who can guard the guardians, that would be one of the greatest breakthroughs in world history.

Posted by: Cyril | Nov 16 2020 4:09 utc | 114

karlof1 @ 103 -- Great observations you made there.

GDP measures activity, and only tangentially, productivity. Repeatedly digging a hole and backfilling it is activity, not productivity. Buying and selling the same shares and bonds is activity, not productivity.

If we look for evidence of GDP in China, we see that they built a new city for 12 million citizens in Shenzhen over the last 40 years. Assuming 4 persons per apartment, that says 3 million new apartments, or 205 apartments per day for 40 years non-stop!

Not forgetting the appurtenant schools, hospitals, bullet trains, airports, parks, power stations, reservoirs, etc.

And that is before counting 30 or 40 other large cities in the last 30 years as other regions play catch up with Shenzhen.

Now, that is some productive GDP, unlike in the US where "GDP" gives false readings for at least 2 reasons: theirs is a heavily financialised, non-manufacturing gig economy, and where they fiddle their economic figures at will, just as they fiddle their election figures at will.

Posted by: kiwiklown | Nov 16 2020 4:11 utc | 115

@Willy2 | Nov 16 2020 3:21 utc | 110

If the debtor would be the same as the creditor ("we owe it to ourselves") then why create the debt in the first place. Then there wouldn't be any debts at all.

No one knows whether debt-based systems will work in the long run. That is probably why Michael Hudson has been advocating jubilees. I've no idea whether that will work either, as I can see some problems with it.

As China's debt is nearly all internal, a complete switch to some other system will be possible there.

In contrast, the West is probably trapped by its debts, unless some cataclysmic political upheaval overthrows its banks.

Posted by: Cyril | Nov 16 2020 4:56 utc | 116

- Mr Michael Pettis has done some truly excellent work on the situation in China.

Posted by: Willy2 | Nov 16 2020 7:50 utc | 117

@Cyril (#115):

Hudson also has said that at the end of the day every debt will be paid. If the borrower doesn't repay the debts then the lender will pay for the debt.
Oh yes, there will be a "debt jubilee". Either we do it now and then it can be done in a controlled fashion. Or we postpone it until the REAL day of reckoning comes (= another crisis) and the jubilee will be performed in a disaorderly fashion.

Posted by: Willy2 | Nov 16 2020 8:03 utc | 118

'The Hindu' newspaper carried RCEP as their main headline today, front page.

Posted by: R | Nov 16 2020 8:23 utc | 119

Dan Lynch ' . the value of international trade is questionable'.
Bingo, I think exactly the same including the pursue of self sufficiency.
When the specific country in the future does manage to reach a
fine income level (over average 40k a year) then, THEN their citizes might choose to give up on minor or major PARTS of the their protectionist laws.
But of course they won't do it except in peacemeal chunks b ecause experience will have taught them where the neolibs fairy tales lead to.

Posted by: augusto | Nov 16 2020 14:26 utc | 120

@FoolishOldMan (# 102):

- Agree. The financial demise of China haas been predicted many times before and it didn't happen(yet). Like the demise of the US, Japan etc. etc. has been predicted many times before.
But all three countries mentioned above have been able to kick the can down the road for a long time by adding more and more debt. But the more debt is added the more destructive the ensueing (credit) DEFLATION will be.

- China did have a financial crisis in the late 1990s. China did have a crisis when their exports to e.g. the US shrank by some 50%.

Posted by: Willy2 | Nov 16 2020 14:45 utc | 121

In earlier times, loans were made from stocks of capital, from those who held capital, to those who needed capital.

We don't seem to live in that circumstance anymore. At least in the US and UK, new loans are created from a basis of no capital other than "reserves" which seem very close to fictitious.

What I think this means is that no one really cares about getting loans paid back anymore, because the initial principal wasn't very real to begin with. And central banks hold the ultimate assurance of the supply of as much more as will ever be needed.

What creditors care about is interest. Compound interest, the greatest evil perhaps ever devised, extracts so much income from one initial loan during the term of the loan that in the aggregate it's often well over 100% and as usurious as anyone's definition could care to embrace.

We talked recently of how "the spice must flow", and we considered that today's spice is interest payments. I believe this is all the bankers care about, since their initial capital base for loaning money into existence hardly seems to come out of their own pockets to begin with.

But the interest is real. Banks create new money in a bookkeeping entry, from which a portion is siphoned back from real producers as interest. All of this is monetized, which is as if to say, charged in increments against the solvency of the populace.

I have the feeling that debt can easily be written down and written off. We've seen it countless times in the affairs of the world. What matters is the interest. If we're siphoning more money off to pay interest than is sustainable, then we have to cut back on interest. But the debt levels involved are merely the enablers of the interest.

So when loans get "restructured", are we really concerned about paying the ethereal principal back, or are we mostly concerned to roll the interest into a nice income over the future, at a level that the victim can pay without dying?

The question for the bankers is, how much interest can the beast of burden carry without dying and ending the flow? I suspect, without being any kind of expert, that this is the underlying dynamic of much finance.

That's my two cents this fine Monday morning, from my limited stock of capital.

Posted by: Grieved | Nov 16 2020 15:17 utc | 122

The giant build up of debt in the West (North America, Europe, Australia, Japan) has been made possible by interest rates falling precipitously in the laast say 30 to 40 years.

See e.g. here the development of US interest rates since the early 1960s. If rate would have remained at 15% (like they were in 1980/1981) then the US economy would have collapsed under the giant load of debt in the year 2000.

Posted by: Willy2 | Nov 16 2020 17:37 utc | 123

@121 Willy2

China did have some economic problems in the late 1990s. There was a reduction of demand in some countries they exported to due to the so called "Asian financial crisis", otherwise known as the time western investors suddenly pulled large amounts of hot money out of non Chinese Asian investments and thereby reduced currency exchange rates to the point where many Asian companies suddenly couldn't pay loans denominated in dollars and thus fell victim to returning Western investors who bought up former Asian assets very cheaply. There was a lot of talk, especially in the west but also in China, about the need to reform Chinese state owned enterprises. I agree many people in China lost their jobs in the state owned sector. But overall growth in the Chinese economy continued to be quite high, albeit slightly less than before. According to Wikipedia:
"In 1996, the Chinese economy continued to grow at a rapid pace, at about 9.5%, accompanied by low inflation. The economy slowed for the next 3 years, influenced in part by the Asian Financial Crisis, with official growth of 8.9% in 1997, 7.8% in 1998 and 7.1% for 1999. From 1995 to 1999, inflation dropped sharply, reflecting tighter monetary policies and stronger measures to control food prices."
In other words, I've never heard that the Chinese had anything like the sort of crisis your posts seem to imply. Could you please give us a source?

Posted by: Fnord13 | Nov 16 2020 18:14 utc | 124

Willy2 said:

The giant build up of debt in the West (North America, Europe, Australia, Japan) has been made possible by interest rates falling precipitously in the last say 30 to 40 years.

You might think that to be true but the evidence shows that statement is 100% wrong.
Here is a graph of the yearly change of total US credit market debt (govt & private debt). The graph clearly shows that debt expanded the fastest in the 1970's and 80's when interst rates were the highestm. And debt expansion was the lowest after the 2008 crash when rates were close to zero. This conforms to the basic laws of supply and demand. When there is a huge appetite for borrowing the interest rates go way up when there is little appetite for borrowing the rates drop to zero.

Interest rates are low when there are more dollars that people want to put into financial instruments that earn interest than there are dollars that credit worthy entities are willing to borrow and pay the interest. More borrowing drives interest up and more saving drives interest down.

Posted by: jinn | Nov 16 2020 18:28 utc | 125

@Fnord (124):

The story of the Asia crisis 1997 - 2001 in the late 1990s runs much deeper than that. to understand why the Asia cisis happened one has to look at the preceding timeframe of 1985 - 1995 when the EUR/USD (or DEM/USD) fell.
Chinese GDP is notoriously unreliable and the reliability of chinese GDP is much worse than e.g. US GDP statistics. China did have a banking crisis in the late 1990s (think: Asia crisis). But this was not that significant because Europe & North America were still booming.

Posted by: Willy2 | Nov 16 2020 20:46 utc | 126

@Geronamaker (#126 & 128)): Spot on. These folks seem to the followers of the nutty MMT school of economics.

Posted by: willy2 | Nov 16 2020 20:53 utc | 127

Geronamaker @128

Run printing press -> put fresh currency in pocket. I've just made a "loan" to myself.

Legality has nothing to do with it.

Things work a little differently for states with sovereign currency than they do for the average working slob, and that's not a bad thing.

Posted by: William Gruff | Nov 16 2020 21:32 utc | 128


Even with a 401K we have 2 separate entities: E.g. 1) Geronamaker (creditor) and 2) Geronamaker's 401k plan (debtor).

Posted by: willy2 | Nov 17 2020 8:34 utc | 129

Americans, used to only the worlds most piss poor news ought to look to Australian web sites for some good descriptions of America.



It seems clear to the world, America excepted, that the country is in decline. Time will tell but Trump and the Repugnicans have certainly helped it along in its fall. Divided equals weak no matter how you look at it.


Posted by: Joe Blough | Nov 17 2020 22:01 utc | 130

Reading the utterly facile and idiot statements about "deep state" conspiracies is an indicator of just how messed up Americans are. There is no DEEP STATE you fools. The examples given show that civil servants (ambassadors and all sorts of others) who don't like a Presidents policies often try to subtly sabotage their leaders. This has happened to every president at some time. The sabotage can be simply implementing things so slowly that nothing actually happens. This can be either good or bad depending on the particular policy being sabotaged. To call such behavior part of a Deep State plot is idiotic.

But after all, 48% of Americans fit such a category as was proven in the past but unfinished election.

Posted by: Joe Blough | Nov 17 2020 22:08 utc | 131

Much wonderful news.

People tout this as a China win, but me think this is an ASEAN win, China, Japan & Korea are just invited to it.

The future is here, and it is SEA.

Posted by: Smith | Nov 17 2020 23:09 utc | 132

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