The Pacific Trade Deal Looks Dead — and China Is So Very, Very Happy

 
Xi Jinping

China’s President Xi Jinping addresses the audience during a meeting of the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) CEO Summit in Lima, Peru.

While many analysts are trying to predict Trump’s economic agenda — Tax cuts? Infrastructure? Deportations? — and its possible impacts, let’s not forget about the demise of the Pacific trade deal. From The Economist:

TPP’s collapse removes the main economic plank of Barack Obama’s much-hyped, largely abortive “pivot” to Asia. It leaves a gaping hole in the architecture of Asian commerce. And it adds to the strong headwinds that are buffeting global trade. … On the basis of size alone, TPP would have been important, the largest regional trade deal in history. It encompassed 12 Pacific countries, including America, Japan and Canada (see chart). Together, they account for two-fifths of the world economy. But what made it all the more significant was its strategic intent. Notably absent from the membership was China. Economically, this made little sense. Studies indicated that including China, the world’s biggest exporter, would have substantially expanded the benefits of TPP. But America wanted to show that it could set Asia’s economic agenda. China might eventually have been invited to join TPP, but only after America had written “the rules of the road”, as its negotiators liked to say. Matthew Goodman of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a think-tank, considers its collapse a “body blow” to American economic policy in Asia. … It is also a blow to the global economy. Over the years rich countries have cut tariffs to the point where the main obstacles to commerce now lie in regulations that discriminate against foreign companies. TPP took aim at barriers hidden in government-procurement guidelines and investment restrictions. It would have raised the bar for future trade deals, says Jayant Menon of the Asian Development Bank: “That’s where the biggest loss lies.” … For Asia’s reformers, there is thus no getting around the disappointment of TPP’s demise. Vu Thanh Tu Anh, a Vietnamese economist, says that Vietnam had hoped to use the deal to pressure sluggish state-owned companies to shape up. Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, viewed it as part of his programme of structural reforms, since it would have exposed coddled Japanese industries such as health care and agriculture to more competition. Even in China, liberal officials thought TPP might prompt the government to loosen its grip on markets in order to join one day.

The “strategic intent” of the trade agreement and its geopolitical implications have been underplayed and under-discussed during the election season. But if your goal is withdrawal and pulling up the drawbridge, maybe that’s no so important. Anyway, China seems delighted. From the Financial Times:

China has offered itself as the Pacific Rim’s lead advocate for free trade, as US President Barack Obama defended the remnants of what he had hoped would be one of his biggest policy legacies. Mr Obama’s “pivot” to Asia, and the now-stalled Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that was supposed to be its economic backbone, have for years given the US a leadership role at the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. But the election of Donald Trump, who campaigned on a protectionist platform and against Mr Obama’s TPP, has rewritten that formula. But in public and private meetings APEC officials said the realities of a rapid shift in power to China following Mr Trump’s victory were apparent in Lima. “There is a different dynamic around the table. People are hedging their bets,” said one senior official.

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  1. Quake Voter Inactive
    Quake Voter
    @QuakeVoter

    You would expect, after Brexit, that advocates for free or freeish trading systems would up their game beyond the snooty recitations of stale orthodoxies and cartoon condescension about drawbridges.

    If I hear an original argument (or merely an original slant) from Pethokoukis or Scott Lincicome this year I’ll be surprised.

    The party line that a 5000 page agreement is simply the application of comparative advantage which cannot he structured in ways which help or harm American industry is risible.

    • #1
  2. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    Quake Voter:You would expect, after Brexit, that advocates for free or freeish trading systems would up their game beyond the snooty recitations of stale orthodoxies and cartoon condescension about drawbridges.

    If I hear an original argument (or merely an original slant) from Pethokoukis or Scott Lincicome this year I’ll be surprised.

    The party line that a 5000 page agreement is simply the application of comparative advantage which cannot he structured in ways which help or harm American industry is risible.

    Wait, so you don’t find China’s reaction to our scuttling of the TPP to be germane?

    • #2
  3. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    Quake Voter: The party line that a 5000 page agreement is simply the application of comparative advantage which cannot he structured in ways which help or harm American industry is risible.

    @jamesofengland

     

    • #3
  4. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Quake Voter:You would expect, after Brexit, that advocates for free or freeish trading systems would up their game beyond the snooty recitations of stale orthodoxies and cartoon condescension about drawbridges.

    If I hear an original argument (or merely an original slant) from Pethokoukis or Scott Lincicome this year I’ll be surprised.

    The party line that a 5000 page agreement is simply the application of comparative advantage which cannot he structured in ways which help or harm American industry is risible.

    It’s a lengthy document that is structured in a way to help American industry by increasing its market access, simplifying the legal regime, inhibiting cronyism and supporting the rule of law. Who says that it can’t help American industry? Who wants to harm it? It’s not really possible to use the agreement to help provide tariff based support for US industry under most circumstances, but we shouldn’t be putting forward centrally issued five year plans anyway.

    • #4
  5. Pelicano Inactive
    Pelicano
    @Pelicano

    How many people understood that China was not part of TPP? I suspect when people heard “Pacific” they assumed it meant “China” and by “partnership” they though it meant “we send China jobs while they send us cheap junk.”

     

    • #5
  6. Matt Y. Inactive
    Matt Y.
    @MattY

    So we are ceding ground to a revanchist Russia in the Middle East and Europe, and opening the door for a revisionist China in Asia? Ugh. Listen. “Retrenchment”, isolationism, short-sighted populism (“America First!”), and protectionism are bad. This is why.

    • #6
  7. Quake Voter Inactive
    Quake Voter
    @QuakeVoter

    James Of England: It’s a lengthy document that is structured in a way to help American industry by increasing its market access, simplifying the legal regime, inhibiting cronyism and supporting the rule of law. Who says that it can’t help American industry? Who wants to harm it?

    5,000 pages which simplify legalities, inhibit cronyism and support the rule of law?  Who believes that?

    Everyone who profits, often quite handsomely, in offshoring American industries to “legal regimes” with next to no environmental, labor or regulatory compliance costs is quite happy to harm American industry, with fewer qualms when their schemes are given the imprimatur of the political consensus in Washington.

    It is also troubling that all of these vast regional “free” trade agreements are always driven by international power politics rather than genuine belief in open markets and fullblown comparative advantage.  Talk about “opening the door” for China is also rather anachronistic.  China is going to be kicking down doors in Asia for the rest of the century.

    We could simply declare ourselves a free trade nation open to all world commerce if we really had confidence in unalloyed advantages of free trade, couldn’t we?  5,000 pages is a stipulation that we do not.

     

    • #7
  8. Quake Voter Inactive
    Quake Voter
    @QuakeVoter

    Just to string the net for this tennis match, here’s a fair piece in the WSJ (hardly a nativist, protectionist publication) about the projected benefits of the TPP.

    We are discussing a deal which will likely increase GDP by 0.15% over 16 years.

    Seems like a great deal of effort and pyrotechnic rhetoric to boost our economy by 0.01% per year, while providing that corollary “benefit” of further enforcing a regional alliance against the Chinese.

    • #8
  9. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    Quake Voter: 5,000 pages which simplify legalities, inhibit cronyism and support the rule of law? Who believes that?

    I do, because I’ve read a bunch of it.

    Quake Voter: Everyone who profits, often quite handsomely, in offshoring American industries to “legal regimes” with next to no environmental, labor or regulatory compliance costs is quite happy to harm American industry, with fewer qualms when their schemes are given the imprimatur of the political consensus in Washington.

    This seems like less of an indictment of free trade than it does US regulations.

    Quake Voter: It is also troubling that all of these vast regional “free” trade agreements are always driven by international power politics rather than genuine belief in open markets and fullblown comparative advantage. Talk about “opening the door” for China is also rather anachronistic. China is going to be kicking down doors in Asia for the rest of the century.

    How do you propose we combat that?

    Quake Voter: We could simply declare ourselves a free trade nation open to all world commerce if we really had confidence in unalloyed advantages of free trade, couldn’t we? 5,000 pages is a stipulation that we do not.

    If only that were politically possible.

    • #9
  10. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Pelicano:How many people understood that China was not part of TPP? I suspect when people heard “Pacific” they assumed it meant “China” and by “partnership” they though it meant “we send China jobs while they send us cheap junk.”

    You were not alone, although even if it were a trade deal with China it wouldn’t be a bad thing for US jobs (we’d get a lot of high end manufacturing for Chinese markets that might otherwise go to Canada, Europe, or elsewhere).

    Jamie Lockett:

    Quake Voter: 5,000 pages which simplify legalities, inhibit cronyism and support the rule of law? Who believes that?

    I do, because I’ve read a bunch of it.

    Right, but other than that.

    Quake Voter: Everyone who profits, often quite handsomely, in offshoring American industries to “legal regimes” with next to no environmental, labor or regulatory compliance costs is quite happy to harm American industry, with fewer qualms when their schemes are given the imprimatur of the political consensus in Washington.

    This seems like less of an indictment of free trade than it does US regulations.

    It’s not uncommon to find that anti-FTA arguments are really just complaints about America in general. The only possible focus for this complaint with the TPP is Vietnam (even Vietnam’s regulations aren’t nearly as laissez faire as they were a decade ago), and Vietnam’s impact on the US economy is relatively minor.

    That said, the suggestion that those who engage in trade in a form other than pure exports (farmers, say) is unpatriotic is about trade.  It should go without saying that it is also false. There are many patriotic Americans who work in setting up companies in emerging markets, including a fair number who have been colleagues of mine in doing so.

    Quake Voter: It is also troubling that all of these vast regional “free” trade agreements are always driven by international power politics rather than genuine belief in open markets and fullblown comparative advantage. Talk about “opening the door” for China is also rather anachronistic. China is going to be kicking down doors in Asia for the rest of the century.

    How do you propose we combat that?

    For what it’s worth, while trade agreements are sold on both arguments, one hears more about the pro-trade arguments for the USTR folks who do the actual negotiation, more power politics from people who are less interested in the details. The details matter, and it matters, too, how open the doors are. China’s not going to get everything it wants. As with so many things, the TPP was about moving the needle, not about a paradigm shift.

    Quake Voter: We could simply declare ourselves a free trade nation open to all world commerce if we really had confidence in unalloyed advantages of free trade, couldn’t we? 5,000 pages is a stipulation that we do not.

    If only that were politically possible.

    If it were politically possible, it would still be unbelievably dumb. Not only would it cost us access to the markets we currently have access to (TPP reduces the volume of statute by consolidating exiting agreements), end the rule of law and capitalist paradigm support that it provides, but it would declare a lack of interest in the rest of the world and, as can be seen here, the Chinese and others are happy to fill any such void.

    • #10
  11. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Quake Voter:Just to string the net for this tennis match, here’s a fair piece in the WSJ (hardly a nativist, protectionist publication) about the projected benefits of the TPP.

    We are discussing a deal which will likely increase GDP by 0.15% over 16 years.

    Seems like a great deal of effort and pyrotechnic rhetoric to boost our economy by 0.01% per year, while providing that corollary “benefit” of further enforcing a regional alliance against the Chinese.

    Because the US already has trade deals with most TPP countries, the vast bulk of the GDP boost would be the addition of Japan to the US tariff free trading network. There’s also a network effect, which is not part of the study’s parameters. It works with other trade agreements to attract investment. Mexico has a bunch of export focused auto plants, for instance, because it’s easier to export from Mexico than just about any other country on Earth. Unfortunately, it’s kind of dynamic and its impact depends on what happens in the rest of the world. It also sees future trade agreements costing less to America; with each low cost exporter of textiles reducing the cost of each future one. If you already have a trade agreement with Mexico, a new trade agreement with Vietnam provides the same market access, but provides less import shock. Likewise, having Vietnam makes a future FTA with, say, South Africa, less problematic.

    You’ll find other studies with higher numbers (eg. 0.5% of GDP in 14 years), and even the modest direct economic benefit claimed by the International Trade Commission’s study is better than a kick in the teeth (the six figure job growth isn’t nothing either), but a lot of the financial benefit comes from solidifying the trading system in a way that allows future trade agreements to be easier and cheaper. If what you’re looking for is the direct economic effect, it’s the TTIP you want to focus on; TPP is more of a consolidation and updating of existing trade agreements, whereas the successor to the TTIP will give us a lot of new markets. TPP offers more geopolitical advantages, because much of the benefit lies in integrating the other economies with each other, while the TTIP counterparties are already integrated, and TPP is generally easier.

    Trump pulling out of TPP is a stupid thing to do; the simplification of the legal regime is exactly what he wants if his complaints about the length are genuine, and it’s something of a betrayal of Harper, Abe, and other conservative, free market leaders around the world who put significant effort into the deal. Nonetheless, you’re correct that the legal changes result in relatively subtle economic effects (even if it’s 0.5% over 14 years, that’s still a little hard to isolate and assess clearly). If Trump pulls out of the NAFTA and other existing FTAs, as he is still suggesting he might, we could face a serious loss, but there’s no country comparable to Mexico and Canada in terms of their trade volume with the US and further additions are not going to have the same impact as the CUSFTA and NAFTA. It’s possible that we’ll have another confluence of free marketeers around the world in four years time and we’ll get another shot at this. If so, Trump’s financial harm to the country would be an order of magnitude greater than Carrier’s harm in moving, but nonetheless not a level of harm that would be easy to demonstrate.

    Of course, that’s true for most other deregulation, too.

    • #11
  12. Chris Member
    Chris
    @Chris

    In the interest of avoiding self-flagellation, TPP was thrown under the bus by HRC as well.

    In all earnestness, do “those in the know” feel that Hillary was lying and just attempting to shore up the Bernie supporters?

     

    • #12
  13. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    Chris: In all earnestness, do “those in the know” feel that Hillary was lying and just attempting to shore up the Bernie supporters?

    Yes.

    • #13
  14. Al Kennedy Inactive
    Al Kennedy
    @AlKennedy

    I have read a lot about the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) but I have not seen a list of the items in it that make it a bad deal for America.  What are the items in it that convinced President Elect Trump that America should exit it?  America already has free trade agreements with most of the countries in the TPP, but TPP would set the rules for intellectual property and would restrict China’s ability to set the rules for Asian trade.  I never bought the argument that the loss of American manufacturing jobs in the last two decades were solely based on poor trade agreements.  It doesn’t take into account the significant effect of technology and the re-engineering of logistic chains.

    • #14
  15. V the K Member
    V the K
    @VtheK

    There were probably a few good things buried in the 5,000 pages of the TPP, I won’t discount that. The problem with selling TPP is that the people have heard these same sales pitches for NAFTA and MFN for China.

    The Free Traders promise: “This is going to be great. Their markets will open up and it will create oodles and boodles of jobs for the middle class.”

    And then when what actually happens is that manufacturing jobs get exported, the free traders say, “Hey, it’s all good. You didn’t want those icky manufacturing jobs anyway. You can work in the service industry or the skilled trades. By the way, we’re importing twenty million third world immigrants to work in the service industry and skilled trades. Let there be open borders!”

    The middle class has been hearing this shuck and jive for nigh on thirty years now. It just didn’t work this time.

    • #15
  16. Al Kennedy Inactive
    Al Kennedy
    @AlKennedy

    V the K:This was used for NAFTA, I didn’t hear it for TPP.  This sentiment is not true.  Trade agreements result in cheaper goods for the middle class, not more jobs.  I think the problem with prevous agreements is that they didn’t anticipate the effect on American jobs and implement legislation to deal with that.

    “Hey, it’s all good. You didn’t want those icky manufacturing jobs anyway. You can work in the service industry or the skilled trades. By the way, we’re importing twenty million third world immigrants to work in the service industry and skilled trades. Let there be open borders!”

    Immigration and open borders are a separate issue from free trade agreements.

     

    • #16
  17. Crow's Nest Inactive
    Crow's Nest
    @CrowsNest

    James Pethokoukis:The “strategic intent” of the trade agreement and its geopolitical implications have been underplayed and under-discussed during the election season.

    Jim: I agree. I don’t think that many college-educated Americans (never mind broader economic illiteracy among Americans with some college or no college), unless they got a very healthy dose of macro, understand the reasons that the post-war Bretton Woods agreement and its successor frameworks were expressions of American interest and to America’s benefit in the main.

    That being said, language like “bringing up the drawbridge” isn’t what’s needed right now. When did condescending to an audience ever endear it to a speaker?

    What is needed now, if free trade advocates don’t want to see further retrenchment, is a clearer explanation to the people of the ways that trade agreements redound to America’s security and economic interests. That discussion will necessarily also require a franker discussion of the trade-offs of those choices.

    Very obviously, its not enough for there to be a managerial and meritocratic class that believes strongly in the merits of trade and a wide swath of the public both ignorant of its fundamentals and fearful with some cause of its effects.

    Head-patting and tsk tsking were resoundingly rejected in 2016.

     

    • #17
  18. Crow's Nest Inactive
    Crow's Nest
    @CrowsNest

    Al Kennedy:

    Immigration and open borders are a separate issue from free trade agreements.

    Yes, the two are separate issues. But the two are inter-related topics and, more and more here in the early 21st century, certain clusters of ideas and policies seem to go together. Its not an accident that the most strident voices on free trade issues are also those who advocate for freer and freer flows of both capital and labor without regard to citizenship. There is unquestionably a movement among some to opt for greater cosmopolitanism and for the reduction of politics to management and economics.

    • #18
  19. V the K Member
    V the K
    @VtheK

    Al Kennedy:

    Immigration and open borders are a separate issue from free trade agreements.

    Not really. I am old enough to remember that one of the “benefits” of NAFTA was supposed to be that with all the growth in the Mexican economy, illegal immigration would stop because there would be so many good jobs in Mexico that its people would stay home. It didn’t work out that way.

    Also, a lot of the supporters of FTAs are also open borders advocates; the editorial page of the WSJ for example. Also, Gary Johnson, who imagined trucks would zip across the Mexican border at 6o miles per hour.

    Philosophically, I can understand why if one is passionate about the free movement of goods, one is equally passionate about the free movement of people. But in the real world, the latter has decidedly more implications than the former. Perhaps, supporters of FTA might consider  strengthening immigration enforcement and limiting overall immigration levels as part of a trade-off.

    • #19
  20. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Chris:

    In all earnestness, do “those in the know” feel that Hillary was lying and just attempting to shore up the Bernie supporters?

    I’m not “in the know,” but yes. I felt sure of it.

    • #20
  21. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    How many people attacking TPP or celebrating it have read it?  Very few.  It’s not completely open and it’s very complex.    I’m not sure excluding China is the way to lead Asia, but neither can we relate to all of these export led economies by business as usual.  I rather suspect we need to rethink the whole issue and go back to basics.  I don’t know what that means because I cannot begin to get my mind around the global trade regime, the monetary order and the global financial system.  I don’t think our government can either.   Throw in Congress and all the affected interests here and abroad and the thing vanishes into an unknowable fog.

    • #21
  22. Arizona Patriot Member
    Arizona Patriot
    @ArizonaPatriot

    To put the TPP in perspective: the comments suggests a US GDP increase of 0.15%-0.50% as a result of TPP.

    US GDP is about $18 trillion, so this suggests an increase of $27 to $90 billion per year.

    On a per capita basis, this is a range of $85 to $280 per person, per year.

    Which isn’t much.  This indicates to me that the benefits of free trade are pretty small, at least for the changes that would be made by TPP.

    There may be other benefits, such as lower prices.  I don’t think that this possible benefit would be reflected in GDP figures.

    I think that the benefit of increased employment would already be captured by the GDP figure.

    • #22
  23. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    I Walton: It’s not completely open

    The entire text has been posted on the USTR website for months.

    • #23
  24. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    Arizona Patriot:To put the TPP in perspective: the comments suggests a US GDP increase of 0.15%-0.50% as a result of TPP.

    US GDP is about $18 trillion, so this suggests an increase of $27 to $90 billion per year.

    On a per capita basis, this is a range of $85 to $280 per person, per year.

    Which isn’t much. This indicates to me that the benefits of free trade are pretty small, at least for the changes that would be made by TPP.

    There may be other benefits, such as lower prices. I don’t think that this possible benefit would be reflected in GDP figures.

    I think that the benefit of increased employment would already be captured by the GDP figure.

    This is due to the fact that the TPP puts in place very few new free trade policies and is more of a way to normalize them amongst the participating nations (almost always in line with US interests). It has the side benefit of sidelining China in their own region of the globe.

    • #24
  25. Arizona Patriot Member
    Arizona Patriot
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Jamie Lockett:This is due to the fact that the TPP puts in place very few new free trade policies and is more of a way to normalize them amongst the participating nations (almost always in line with US interests). It has the side benefit of sidelining China in their own region of the globe.

    Thanks for the explanation.

    I clearly see the major benefit of TPP in promoting an Asian and Pacific alliance structure to oppose possible Chinese expansionism.  I think that the potential danger that China poses to the world is generally underestimated.  Things may go well, but history has shown that rising major powers generally become aggressive and expansionist, resulting in major wars.

    History has also shown that the building of coalitions against rising major powers may backfire, as in the case of pre-WWI “encirclement” of Germany.  But I suspect that this is more of an excuse, and that Germany would have been aggressive in any event.

    • #25
  26. V the K Member
    V the K
    @VtheK

    I think that the potential danger that China poses to the world is generally underestimated.

    Help me understand something.

    If China is such a dangerous country, why do we give them Most Favored Nation trade status?

    If China is an adversary, or a strategic threat, then why are they given the same treatment in trade as our most trusted allies?

    • #26
  27. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    V the K:

    I think that the potential danger that China poses to the world is generally underestimated.

    Help me understand something.

    If China is such a dangerous country, why do we give them Most Favored Nation trade status?

    If China is an adversary, or a strategic threat, then why are they given the same treatment in trade as our most trusted allies?

    I don’t find China to be that much of a global threat – the cracks in their economy are readily apparent for anyone willing to look. However, to answer your question – do you know of a better way to align the interests of a potentially hostile country than through trade?

    • #27
  28. Frozen Chosen Inactive
    Frozen Chosen
    @FrozenChosen

    Don’t worry, president elect Trump is playing 4 dimensional chess.  He’s got it all figured out.  He’ll make those wily Chinese pay!

    • #28
  29. ToryWarWriter Thatcher
    ToryWarWriter
    @ToryWarWriter

    “The benefits of Free Trade are so obvious to anyone that we cant be bothered to explain them to you. And your stupid for asking us about it.”

     

    I cant see why that argument fails.   Which is often an argument I have seen on TV pundits and feel minus the last part is what the author went for.

     

    The Free Traders are finding themselves in the same boat as the Pipeline/Oil companies. Having to now explain themselves to a public propagandized by there opponents.

     

    This was exemplified in an earlier comment. “Well I read it.”  So what?

     

    Defend the position, cause honestly the defense so far, is as sincere as a ceasefire in Syria.

    • #29
  30. ToryWarWriter Thatcher
    ToryWarWriter
    @ToryWarWriter

    However, to answer your question – do you know of a better way to align the interests of a potentially hostile country than through trade?

     

    –In 1939 Germanys largest trading partner was France. Its second largest was Poland. Obviously aligning greater trade with this potentially hostile country didn’t work out. Trying Appeasement policy to China is not a guaranteed plan of success.

     

    –Sure China. Steal our intellectual properties, devalue your currency. Build up your military. Lie, cheat steal. Commit genocide on Tibet. We don’t care. We won’t threaten to pull MFN off you for bad behavior. We won’t embargo strategic materials. Hell we will sell them to you. We won’t hit you with reciprocal trade penalties. Cause we no bullies and thugs always respect those who bow and cave to them. They totally respect that. And definitely don’t seek ways to expand their influence, invade their neighbours exploit the advantages or eventually plunge the world into war. That never happens.

    • #30
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