APEC still has a key role to play

China Daily European Weekly - - Comment - Ren Xiao The au­thor is pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions and di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for the Study of Chi­nese For­eign Pol­icy at Fu­dan Univer­sity. The views do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect those of China Daily.

But Re­gional Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship is mak­ing more sub­stan­tive progress on in­te­gra­tion

The 26th Asia-Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion Sum­mit was held in Port Moresby, the cap­i­tal of Pa­pua New Guinea, from Nov 17 to 18.

For a while now, ten­sion has been build­ing in re­gard to uni­lat­er­al­ism ver­sus pro­tec­tion­ism, and those forces were in the spot­light at the sum­mit. Un­der this um­brella, it is im­por­tant to note that the ma­jor­ity of lead­ers at the APEC meet­ing in­sisted on sup­port­ing lib­er­al­iza­tion of trade and in­vest­ment as well as open re­gion­al­ism, and op­pos­ing pro­tec­tion­ism.

If we look a bit closer, we can see that in the two years the United States has all but ig­nored mul­ti­lat­eral or­ga­ni­za­tions and mech­a­nisms. Trump’s ab­sence from this APEC meet­ing is an­other sign of his at­ti­tude.

The APEC Bei­jing sum­mit in 2014 clearly stated the aim of es­tab­lish­ing a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pa­cific, and in the fol­low­ing two years, the col­lec­tive strat­egy re­search for the FTAAP was com­pleted. The key is­sue, how­ever, lies in how to re­al­ize all the tar­gets in mo­tion. The work­ing prin­ci­ple of APEC is ba­si­cally based on try­ing to achieve com­mon agree­ment among a mem­ber­ship func­tion­ing on free will. So in a group of 21 mem­bers, when the sys­tem is rel­a­tively weak, no won­der it is not easy to push for­ward the FTAAP.

At this year’s APEC meet­ing, many mem­bers voiced their ad­vo­cacy of free trade and anti-pro­tec­tion­ism, and re­it­er­ated open re­gion­al­ism. And many tried to make progress in spe­cific ar­eas in­clud­ing tar­iff and non­tar­iff mea­sures, in­vest­ment and so on. From this per­spec­tive, the course of APEC is pos­i­tive and mean­ing­ful, but mean­while there are some re­stric­tions on the model. In terms of re­gional eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion, more sub­stan­tive progress will be seen in mech­a­nisms other than APEC.

In the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion, that could be the Re­gional Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship.

There are 16 coun­tries par­tic­i­pat­ing in the RCEP, in­clud­ing 10 As­so­ci­a­tion of South-East Asian Na­tions mem­bers and China, Ja­pan, South Ko­rea, In­dia, Aus­tralia and New Zealand. Af­ter years of ne­go­ti­a­tions, there is al­ready im­por­tant progress, and all sides have ex­pressed the will to con­clude ne­go­ti­a­tions be­fore the end of this year.

At present, the 16 coun­tries have com­pleted con­sul­ta­tions in seven chap­ters. Nearly 80 per­cent of the ne­go­ti­a­tions have been com­pleted, and break­throughs have been made in some rules­based chap­ters.

China holds a very pos­i­tive view about the RCEP ne­go­ti­a­tions and is work­ing hard to push for­ward the con­clu­sion of an agree­ment by the end of this year, which is con­sis­tent with China’s deep­en­ing of re­form and ex­pan­sion of open­ing up.

But there are still some bar­ri­ers to the RCEP ne­go­ti­a­tions. For ex­am­ple, low­er­ing im­port tar­iffs is in­evitable for reach­ing the agree­ment, but some coun­tries are still against it. But even if the agree­ment could not be com­pleted within this year, it is still very likely that the agree­ment will be reached in the near fu­ture, which will mark sig­nif­i­cant progress in the re­gion’s eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion.

Com­pared with APEC, the RCEP has seen more sub­stan­tive progress.

That said, APEC still has an op­por­tu­nity to push for­ward re­gional eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion, such as build­ing the APEC trade val­ueadded data­base. But progress might be small be­cause it is not easy to co­or­di­nate with dif­fer­ent economies based on their free will. More­over, APEC could also play an im­por­tant role by pro­vid­ing a plat­form for lead­ers of mem­ber economies to push for­ward bi­lat­eral diplo­macy.

CHEN SHA / FOR CHINA DAILY

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