Re­gion needs FTA for smoother trade

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - VIEWS - Yang Danzhi The au­thor is a re­searcher at the Na­tional In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Strat­egy, Chi­nese Academy of So­cial Sciences.

Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping will at­tend the 25th APEC Eco­nomic Lead­ers’ Meet­ing at Da Nang, Viet­nam on Nov 10 and 11, and pay state vis­its to Viet­nam and Laos from Nov 12 to 14. High hopes have been placed on his first par­tic­i­pa­tion in a ma­jor mul­ti­lat­eral meet­ing after the 19th Na­tional Congress of the Com­mu­nist Party of China last month where, Xi, also gen­eral sec­re­tary of the CPC Cen­tral Com­mit­tee, em­pha­sized Bei­jing’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to build a com­mu­nity of shared fu­ture for all hu­man­ity.

Since 1993 Chi­nese lead­ers have at­tended ev­ery Asia-Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion meet­ing, and sought to ac­cel­er­ate eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion with “Chi­nese pro­pos­als”, in­clud­ing the Shang­hai Ac­cord adopted in 2001 and the Bei­jing Dec­la­ra­tion is­sued at the 2014 APEC in­for­mal lead­ers’ meet­ing.

A year after he pro­posed the Asia-Pa­cific com­mu­nity of shared des­tiny at Bali, In­done­sia, in 2013, Xi talked about the “Asia-Pa­cific dream” at the APEC meet­ing in Bei­jing, shaped the “Bei­jing Agenda” for a Asia-Pa­cific free trade area with other lead­ers to pur­sue in­te­gra­tion, in­no­va­tion and in­ter­con­nec­tiv­ity.

The APEC meet­ing in Lima, Peru, last year saw Bei­jing of­fer­ing more de­tailed plans to ex­pe­dite ne­go­ti­a­tions on the pro­posed Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pa­cific, which fo­cuses on eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion, im­proved con­nec­tiv­ity, in­sti­tu­tional re­form and deep­ened part­ner­ship. At home, Bei­jing has helped es­tab­lish a se­ries of in­sti­tutes such as the APEC E-com­merce Busi­ness Al­liance to draw the at­ten­tion of other APEC economies to the ad­van­tages of China’s de­vel­op­ment path.

APEC is not without its prob­lems, though. Since its es­tab­lish­ment in 1989, the mul­ti­lat­eral body has ad­vo­cated the prin­ci­ple of ne­go­ti­a­tion and in­de­pen­dence, mean­ing no mem­ber is to be left be­hind no mat­ter its level of its eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. But like many other mul­ti­lat­eral or­ga­ni­za­tions, it com­pro­mises its ef­fi­ciency at times by pay­ing too much at­ten­tion to mak­ing ev­ery mem­ber “com­fort­able”.

In other words, cer­tain re­vi­sions could be made in the way the fo­rum func­tions. In par­tic­u­lar, de­vel­oped and de­vel­op­ing APEC economies need to reach a con­sen­sus on global trade re­stric­tions to which the lat­ter are more of­ten sub­ject to.

The pro­posed FTAAP is still far from be­ing re­al­ized as ex­ist­ing mul­ti­lat­eral trade deals are not nec­es­sar­ily in har­mony with bi­lat­eral free trade agree­ments. The ab­sence of a uni­form mech­a­nism cov­er­ing trade, fi­nance and so­cial gov­er­nance means not all mem­bers have high ex­pec­ta­tions of an FTAAP and thus are less mo­ti­vated to pitch in.

How to deal with po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity is­sues un­der the APEC frame­work is also an open ques­tion. Over the past few years more re­gional se­cu­rity is­sues such as the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic of Korea nu­clear is­sue have ap­peared on the APEC agenda. Which risks politi­ciz­ing (even dis­man­tling) the group­ing de­signed to en­hance eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion and play­ing up the dif­fer­ences be­tween mem­bers for no good rea­son. Rather than touch­ing upon non-eco­nomic is­sues, the APEC mem­bers should work closely to com­bat non­tra­di­tional se­cu­rity threats, from cross-bor­der ter­ror­ism and fi­nan­cial cri­sis to nat­u­ral dis­as­ters and epi­demics.

Ar­guably the world’s busiest re­gion in terms of trade and econ­omy, the Asia-Pa­cific is full of op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­clu­sive growth, eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion and peo­ple-to-peo­ple ex­changes. China, with its flag­ship co­op­er­a­tive ar­range­ments such as the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive and the Asian In­fra­struc­ture In­vest­ment Bank, could well play a big­ger role in build­ing the FTAAP.

China, with its flag­ship co­op­er­a­tive ar­range­ments ... could well play a big­ger role in build­ing the FTAAP.

SONG CHEN / CHINA DAILY

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