Asia-Pacific leaders to talk trade in a Trump world
TOP world leaders will meet this week to chart a future for free trade – almost a dirty word in a world upended by Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election.
US President Barack Obama, China’s Xi Jinping, Japan’s Shinzo Abe and Russia’s Vladimir Putin will be among the leaders in the room in Lima, Peru, for the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit from today to November 20.
APEC summits, which gather leaders from 21 Pacific Rim economies, are meant to forge unity on free trade in a region that accounts for nearly 60 percent of the global economy and nearly 40pc of the world’s population.
But this year’s event may be unlike any other, coming on the heels of Mr Trump’s shock win in the November 8 election.
The brash billionaire has unleashed deep uncertainty about the postwar world order with his attacks on free trade, immigration and the US role as “policeman of the world”.
By successfully tapping the anger of working-class whites who feel left behind by globalisation, Mr Trump has amplified a sense of malaise that began in June with Britain’s “Brexit” vote to leave the European Union another shock victory for a populist politics of disillusionment with an increasingly borderless world.
President-elect Trump will not be at the summit, but he may well be the dominant presence in the room.
“I think APEC will be about two things – huge questions about what a Trump presidency will mean for trade and work on all non-US pathways forward to advance free trade,” said Deborah Elms, executive director of the Asian Trade Centre in Singapore.
“The US has apparently chosen to hunker down, raise barricades and return to a past of splendid isolation.”
It risks being an awkward summit for Mr Obama, who will wrap up his final foreign tour as president in Peru after stops in Greece and Germany.
Mr Obama, who had said that Mr Trump was “unfit” to succeed him, must now reassure colleagues that a Trump presidency will not in fact spell disaster.
Leaders will be looking for signals on the future of his much-vaunted “rebalance” to Asia and the Pacific.
American allies such as Japan and South Korea are worried the Republican president-elect will cut back the US military, economic and diplomatic presence in the region – leaving them exposed to a dominant China and a belligerent North Korea.
Mr Trump has caused concern in the region by suggesting Japan and South Korea get nuclear weapons to defend themselves, calling climate change a Chinese “hoax”, and warmly embracing Mr Putin.
Latin American leaders, including Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, will also be looking nervously to the new US administration.
Mr Trump has vowed to build a border wall with Mexico and threatened mass deportations.
Mr Obama’s signature trade initiative in the Asia-Pacific, the TransPacific Partnership (TPP), meanwhile faces near-certain death. Mr Trump has called it a “terrible deal”.
China, which was pointedly excluded from the 12-member TPP, will be pushing its own alphabet soup of proposed trade deals: the APEC-wide Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) and the 16-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which notably includes India but not the United States.
Both are seen as giving China an edge over the US in the battle for regional influence.
The world will be looking to the summit for “a strong statement” to counter Mr Trump’s anti-trade arguments, said Eduardo Pedrosa, secretary general of the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council.
Mr Trump’s win means free trade is “in trouble”, said Robert Lawrence, a trade expert at Harvard University.
Not only is the US role in promoting economic integration “severely compromised”, he told AFP, but American protectionism could now become a brake on world trade.
“Trump trade policy, if it proceeds as advertised, is going to be very disruptive,” he said. –