LAWRENCE — When the United States and 11 other nations recently agreed to the Trans Pacific Partnership, they set in motion history’s largest free trade agreement. A University of Kansas professor of law and international trade law expert has authored a comprehensive, objective look at the TPP, giving it a passing grade while detailing what it got right, where it could improve and why it’s important to millions of people around the world.
Raj Bhala, associate dean for international and comparative law and Rice Distinguished Professor at the KU School of Law, has written "TPP Objectively: Law, Economics, and National Security of History’s Largest, Longest Free Trade Agreement." The book is the first comprehensive, objective analysis of the 6,000-page agreement, the largest in human history. Bhala has also authored the second edition of Understanding Islamic Law (Shari’a), his landmark textbook, and both books take an in-depth look at issues that will be central to this year’s presidential election.
“The book tries to look past the pro- and anti-TPP sides who are so often just talking past each other and screaming about things,” Bhala said. “The political debates tend to oversell the TPP as an economic engine or a catastrophe. The truth is it’s neither. Others miss that it’s about national security. Free trade agreements are not solely economic animals.”
“TPP Objectively” will be available in September as a hardcover and ebook. Copies can be ordered online.
Bhala, who has worked in 11 of the 12 TPP nations, breaks down the economic and national security aspects of the agreement and assigns it a B grade. In terms of security, he assigns the TPP an A, noting the importance it plays in securing agreements with 11 other nations. Many of those countries are longtime allies of the U.S., and others — critically — have agreed to a trade agreement on Western, capitalistic terms favored by the U.S. and not China, which is not part of the agreement. He also points out the national security significance of Vietnam’s membership, noting the entry of a 100 million person market and former bitter enemy of the United States.
Bhala gives the economic aspect of the TPP a C grade. The agreement doesn’t free up trade as much as most people assume, he said, pointing out that about 15 percent of all goods and services produced in the agreement’s member nations are not freed up. That is despite the fact that the agreement covers nearly 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. Perhaps most importantly, Bhala’s book argues the TPP did not go far enough in addressing women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and those of religious minorities in terms of trade.
“The book is the first to argue we need to advance, more resolutely, the rights of women, the LGBTQ community and religious minorities,” Bhala said. “The TPP doesn’t cover much for women’s rights and does nothing for LGBTQ and religious minorities. It’s time to advance human dignity across the board.”
He argues that human rights treaties have attempted to address such topics but, while well-intentioned, are not as effective. Economic agreements among the world’s largest economic powers would get more attention and effect more change, Bhala added.
“TPP Objectively” breaks down concepts, goals, membership, logic and various national markets of the agreement in detailed, understandable language. It also examines nations that are part of the agreement, what they bring to the table specifically and nations that are not part of the agreement and why they are not included. It also examines challenges for the TPP, both short and long term. On the topic of national security it outlines how the agreement can both serve as containment for China and as a guideline for the United States’ pivot in focus from the Middle East to Asia.
While the book analyzes complex legal and international topics and can be invaluable to lawyers, scholars and policy makers, it can also be a source of indispensable insight for any reader interested in learning more about the agreement and what it means for the future of millions of people.
“The TPP is a public issue, it is not an arcane topic,” Bhala said. “It involves a treaty that covers things people eat every day, things they consume every day, intellectual property they depend on every day, labor and environmental issues, and raises women’s rights and minority rights issues. In a 6,000-page agreement there are topics that cover the lives of every American and every citizen in the other 11 member nations.”
Understanding Islamic Law (Shari’a)
Bhala has also authored the second edition of his landmark 2011 textbook, “Understanding Islamic Law (Shari’a).” Since its initial publication the book has been adopted for use in law classes throughout the United States and across the world. The book is the only comprehensive text on the topic, in English, by a non-Muslim law professor.
In press now, the second edition has a wealth of new material, including chapters on ISIS/ISIL, its definition, ideology, atrocities committed, its divergence from Islam and more. The book also contains updated information on the Shia-Sunni dispute and examination of the Prophet Muhammad’s actions during wars in his lifetime.
Understanding Islamic Law also presents in its second edition information on recent developments such as “burqa bans” and other anti-Shari’a law measures enacted in several nations. It also features Arabic terms, in English, a glossary of Arabic terms and expanded coverage of Islamic finance, especially Islamic joint ventures as well as Shi’ism.
The book provides the foundational materials for studying Islamic law without necessitating previous study of the religion, history or law of Islam. Additional chapters cover fields such as banking and finance, contracts, criminal law, family law and property.
Also available as an ebook, “Understanding Islamic Law” is available online.
Photo: A 2010 summit with leaders of the (then) negotiating states of the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement. Credit: The government of Chile.