Saturday, 21st November 2020
Following years of negotiations, 15 countries formed the world’s largest trading bloc on Sunday. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is composed of the ten ASEAN states (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam), as well as South Korea, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
The agreement, which is the result of intense and lengthy negotiations that first started in 2012, is seen as an extension of China’s influence in the region. Although it is relatively limited in scope, the RCEP covers more people than any previous trade agreement, with China alone contributing 1.4 billion to the roughly 2.2 billion people united in the deal.
As the following chart shows, the new trade bloc also carries significant economic weight, accounting for almost a third of global GDP in 2019. With a combined GDP of $25.8 trillion, the newly-formed trade alliance is bigger than the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA, the successor to NAFTA) and the European Economic Area, which comprises the EU27, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and, during the Brexit transition phase, the United Kingdom.
We in Monchique live our lives according to a different economic model, one that is based mainly on ecology. Our agricultural model is independent of other regions and much smaller. Short transport distances, sustainability and the local economy are our main priorities: we have nearly everything that we need for a good life, including our medronho and our olive oil. In Monchique, we have very good bread made from Portuguese flour, our own dairy products made from goat’s milk, ham from the black pig and, yes, one tiny Chinese shop. A second one – which tried to establish a sizeable business – went bankrupt some weeks ago. We do not need too much stuff from abroad or from overseas. And, above all, we do not need to wait eight years to sign a stupid contract between different countries and producers.
We come together on Fridays and Sundays at the local market and, in just half an hour, we have completed all our shopping. Eggs, apples, oranges, beetroots, cauliflower, leeks, beans, sweetcorn, potatoes, and so much more. If we have time, we have a coffee together among friends, locals and foreigners getting together after shopping. That’s our life. We think that this is much more environmentally friendly and less carbon intensive, and certainly very human. We live all of the four seasons intensely, and with them comes crop rotation. Time in Monchique still passes slowly, even though we have rapid internet connections. Once upon a time, we became almost self-sufficient and that still remains our goal for the future.
Why should we transport apples or lamb chops from New Zealand to Monchique? Why should we buy shoes from China if we have our own excellent shoemaker in Monchique, who guarantees us rapid and high-quality repairs? Let me say one more thing, and then I am finished. The economist Ernst F. Schumacher, still a well-known English-German economist even today, had a great idea, which was written in a book published in 1972, about the services that he rendered to Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi in 1946. He just said: Small is beautiful. That is the title of his bestseller and he explained it like this: Size is not a value in itself: it can be advantageous, but it does not have to be. In economics, size leads to a concentration of power, displaces diversity and is often not sustainable.
I have nothing to add to that way of life.