Bold Action Required to Promote Trade and Economic Integration in Asia-Pacific, Says Commission

Charting a Course for Trade and Economic Integration in the Asia-Pacific

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 7, 2017 — In the wake of the U.S. exit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Asian policymakers should promote TPP standards through all means available, and strive this year to improve the quality of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, according to a Commission convened by the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI).

The Independent Commission on Trade Policy is comprised of seven former trade negotiators and academics from the Asia-Pacific region. In the report, Charting a Course for Trade and Economic Integration in the Asia-Pacific, the Commission examines the regional trade landscape and presents recommendations for policymakers on the best path forward in the Asia-Pacific region to liberalize trade, raise standards, promote inclusiveness and encourage broad economic reforms.

“Trade is under attack. On top of slowing trade worldwide, there’s a rising backlash against globalization,” says Commission chair Wendy Cutler, Vice President of ASPI and former Acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative. “But trade can be a force for good by promoting economic growth, raising incomes, creating jobs, reducing poverty, and advancing much-needed domestic reforms to modernize and open economies.”

The Commission makes a number of pragmatic recommendations which aim 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.

The recommendations include:

  • First and foremost, the Commission affirms that regional trade agreements offer the best path forward to liberalize trade, raise standards, and promote broad reforms, allowing countries to simultaneously tap into a number of markets at scales often unattainable through bilateral deals. Common rules reduce confusion and encourage businesses of all sizes to take advantage of agreements’ benefits, and best reflect the way business is actually conducted as global value chains grow ever-more complex.
  • The Commission recognizes, however, that bilateral trade agreements will remain an important feature in the global trading system, particularly as the United States has indicated its preference for bilateral agreements. Thus, it recommends that all deals, including bilateral agreements, should be comprehensive, incorporate high standards, be WTO consistent, and enumerate clear accession provisions to encourage greater regional integration.
  • Policymakers should advance the TPP’s high standards in the Asia-Pacific region, states the Commission, through unilateral reforms and other bilateral and regional trade negotiations. It recommends that TPP countries should consider bringing the TPP agreement into force without the U.S., and explore inviting other Asian economies to join.
  • The Commission emphasizes that member economies should raise RCEP’s standards by negotiating a high-quality agreement that includes provisions such as robust market access commitments, and those that will particularly benefit small and medium sized enterprises.
  • Finally, the Commission urges policymakers to help rebuild support for trade amid growing skepticism by more effectively communicating the benefits of trade agreements, while setting reasonable expectations for their capabilities and limitations. Policymakers should proactively pursue appropriate domestic policies, often viewed as afterthoughts, in parallel with trade agreements. The Commission recommends that multilateral institutions such as the G-20, APEC, and WTO, serve as hubs for policymakers to exchange ideas and collaboratively generate best practices on how to help those impacted by trade and globalization.

Countries that “do not participate in trade liberalization and the pursuant reforms are likely to be left by the wayside,” Kevin Rudd, ASPI President and former Prime Minister of Australia, writes in the report’s foreword. “Should protectionism and isolationism prevail, the Asia-Pacific region could become less open and integrated, upsetting the regional economic and security balance.”

The Commission Members are:

  • Wendy Cutler, Vice President of ASPI, former Acting Deputy USTR (chair)
  • Choi Seokyoung, former Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the WTO
  • Gregory Domingo, former Trade Secretary of the Philippines
  • Peter Grey, former Ambassador of Australia to Japan and the WTO
  • Shotaro Oshima, former Deputy Foreign Minister for Economic Affairs of Japan
  • Mari Elka Pangestu, former Trade Minister of Indonesia
  • Wang Yong, Director of Peking University’s Center for International Political Economy

The Commission report will be launched March 7 at the Australian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

Asia Society Policy Institute

For 60 years, the Asia Society has sought to explain the diversity of Asia to the United States and the complexity of the United States to Asia, and to be a bridge in problem-solving within the region and between Asia and the wider world. With a problem-solving mandate, the Asia Society Policy Institute builds on this mission by tackling major policy challenges confronting the Asia-Pacific in security, prosperity, sustainability, and the development of common norms and values for the region.

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