Con­cept for pact goes back to 2004

China Daily (Canada) - - ADVERTISEMENT - By XIN­HUA

There’s no need to worry that the ex­pected launch of work on a free trade zone would com­pli­cate the trade ter­rain in the Asia-Pa­cific. In­stead, it would raise hopes for a so­lu­tion of the cur­rent “spaghetti bowl” dilemma.

At­ten­tion has been fo­cused on the prospect of es­tab­lish­ing the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pa­cific as a se­ries of high-pro­file Asi­aPa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion meet­ings opened here this week. One of the meet­ing’s out­comes, China ex­pects, will be the start of the FTAAPpro­cess.

Those who see the move as China’s chal­lenge to the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship and an­tic­i­pate diplo­matic wrestling over it will find their spec­u­la­tions un­founded and un­nec­es­sary, ob­servers say.

A free trade area has long been a common vi­sion for APEC economies, not a prod­uct of China’s own wish­ful think­ing.

The FTAAP is not a new idea, nor was it first brought to the ta­ble by China. China sug­gested a fea­si­bil­ity study on the FTAAP in Fe­bru­ary this year, but it was first pro­posed in 2004 and writ­ten into the dec­la­ra­tion of the APEC lead­ers’ meet­ing in 2006.

An an­nual meet­ing of APEC trade min­is­ters in May re­it­er­ated the res­o­lu­tion to draft a road map for the FTAAP to be finalized this year.

The idea gained trac­tion as the re­gion’s mush­room­ing free trade pacts re­sulted in grow­ing com­plex­ity and costs for ex­porters and im­porters. Host­ing the 2014 APEC meet­ings, China is de­ter­mined to push for con­crete steps on the FTAAP, show­cas­ing its ef­forts to shoul­der more in­ter­na­tional re­spon­si­bil­ity, as the coun­try has been re­peat­edly urged to do.

The im­passe in the Doha round of global mul­ti­lat­eral trade talks gave im­pe­tus to a pro­lif­er­a­tion of smaller free trade agree­ments in the re­gion. They brought some ben­e­fits but also un­wanted trou­bles: dif­fer­ent tar­iff schemes, com­pli­cated rules of ori­gin and trade dis­crim­i­na­tion against coun­tries ex­cluded from the FTAs, to list a few.

Against that back­drop, APEC economies’ en­thu­si­asm to in­te­grate the vary­ing and over­lap­ping FTAs is un­der­stand­able.

The TPP and the Re­gional Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship are also part of the ef­forts to dis­en­tan­gle the “spaghetti bowl”, but each of them in­volves only some of the re­gion’s economies.

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