Regional Trade Agreements Offer the Best Path Forward for Asia-Pacific

Highlights from the Launch Event for ASPI's Report

by Jacob Bell
7 March 2017
Highlights from the Launch Event for ASPI's Report

On Tuesday, March 7, the ASPI Independent Commission on Trade Policy released its new report, Charting a Course for Trade and Economic Integration in the Asia-Pacific, at the Embassy of Australia in Washington, D.C. The event featured a panel of speakers, including report coauthors Wendy Cutler and Peter Grey, three Asia-Pacific ambassadors to the U.S., and moderator Shawn Donnan of the Financial Times.

The panelists agreed that amid global uncertainty about the future of trade, Asia-Pacific economies must take bold action to promote high standards and inclusiveness in trade agreements, drive forward regional economic integration, build support for trade agreements by better communicating their benefits, and work with multilateral fora to help assuage the concerns of those who fear being disenfranchised by trade and globalization.

In their discussion, the panelists echoed a central conclusion of the report, which was released one week before a major Asia-Pacific trade summit in Chile, that high-standard regional trade agreements offer the best path forward to liberalize trade, raise standards, and promote broad reforms in our complex, twenty-first century economy. As Grey remarked, “regionals make the most sense, particularly for SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises],” with Pham Quang Vinh, Vietnam’s Ambassador to the United States, adding that regional agreements are good opportunities for countries to link their networks of bilateral agreements.

Speaking to another of the report’s recommendations, Ambassador Ahn Ho-young of Korea emphasized the need for setting common standards for governments and businesses across the region and addressing hidden trade barriers like corruption. “If there is one single recommendation which I would emphasize emphatically, it would be reaffirming our attachment to rule of law,” he said.

In closing, Cutler noted that while the U.S. exit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) complicates the regional trade landscape, Asia-Pacific economies should incorporate the agreement’s high standards in all possible avenues. Cutler also underscored the need for inclusive growth, stating, “[international economic] organizations are paying a lot of attention to boosting economic growth, but the idea that we put forward…is working to ensure that growth is inclusive and that it doesn’t exacerbate inequalities within society.” (48 min., 43 sec.)