News / Asia

    Pacific Rim Countries Hope to Link Scattered Trade Agreements

    Containers are seen in a port in Singapore. Singapore expects its economy to soar 15 percent this year after a record expansion in the second quarter that suggests Asia's recovery from the global recession remains on track (File)
    Containers are seen in a port in Singapore. Singapore expects its economy to soar 15 percent this year after a record expansion in the second quarter that suggests Asia's recovery from the global recession remains on track (File)

    Since the middle of this decade, free trade agreements have blossomed in Asia, partly because of the failure of the World Trade Organization negotiations. Some economists and officials have argued that these bilateral agreements undermine efforts toward a globally binding free trade pact. But Heda Bayron in Hong Kong recently spoke with two trade experts she first interviewed in 2004, and reports they see a new push to link these agreements into one.

    Pushing free trade

    The leaders of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation grouping meet in Yokohama, Japan, this week to again push for trade liberalization among its 21 members.

    The goal of cutting tariffs by 2020 was first shaped in Bogor, Indonesia, in 1994. But it has been eclipsed by the emergence of bilateral free trade agreements. These have allowed countries to negotiate the free flow of goods and services faster than by working out pacts with multiple partners. Countries such as South Korea, China and Singapore are among APEC members that have entered into several FTAs in recent years.

    New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser, right, looks on with an unidentified official, left, during an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Trade Ministers retreat session in Singapore (File Photo)
    New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser, right, looks on with an unidentified official, left, during an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Trade Ministers retreat session in Singapore (File Photo)


    Shujiro Urata, an economics professor at Waseda University in Japan, who spoke with VOA six years ago about bilateral trade agreements, says the failure of the World Trade Organization trade liberalization talks in 2006 encouraged more FTAs in recent years.

    "It's a very important alternative to the WTO. I think one interesting difference between say, the earlier periods and the future, is that there is a trend toward expanding membership by merging or docking. I think we are seeing a broadening from bilateral to pluri-lateral FTAs," said Shujiro Urata.

    US backs Trans-Pacific Partnership

    One idea that has received fresh backing from the United States is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a super FTA that would eliminate tariffs without conditions. Only two of the United States' 14 FTAs are with countries in the Asia-Pacific - Singapore and Australia.

    Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore committed to the TPP in 2006. Australia, Malaysia, Peru and Vietnam have also joined the talks along with the U.S.

    The Japanese government worries their country is lagging behind in terms of FTAs. Business lobby groups urge Tokyo to join the TPP, but the highly subsidized agricultural sector opposes it.

    "This is an occasion that Japan can take advantage of in broadening Japan's FTA coverage and also I'm in favor of FTA because that would promote structural adjustment, especially in the agricultural sector," said Urata. "Without opening up our economy to the rest of the world, (the outlook for the) Japanese economy in the future is quite pessimistic."

    South Korea recently sealed an FTA with the European Union. But the U.S. Senate has failed to ratify a U.S.-Korea FTA, agreed to 2007.

    EU engages negotiations

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, speaks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, front right, and Romania's President Traian Basescu, front left, during a group photo at an ASEM 8 summit in Brussels (File Photo)
    German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, speaks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, front right, and Romania's President Traian Basescu, front left, during a group photo at an ASEM 8 summit in Brussels (File Photo)


    The EU also is negotiating deals with Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore and India.

    Professor Urata says many countries are eager to link up with East Asia because it is seen as the next growth center of the world.

    "In the future this will be the market of the world," added Urata. "So the EU, the U.S. and many other countries are interested in having their foothold in East Asia."

    As trade with Asia increased in recent years, Latin American countries also made their move. Chile was the first Latin American country to reach an agreement with China, while its FTA with South Korea came into force in 2004. Peru's FTA with China came into force earlier this year, while it concluded one with South Korea in September, and soon with Thailand.

    Latin America - Asia trade prospects

    Fernando Gonzalez-Vigil, an economics professor at the Universidad del Pacifico in Lima, Peru, expects more FTAs between Latin American and Asian countries.

    "The quality of these trans-Pacific agreements is very high compared both to agreements within the Americas and to agreements within East Asia and Oceania," said Gonzales. "From the point of view of the deepness of tariff elimination, the commitments on non-tariffs measures and the commitments on trade in services in general, including the commitments on investment measures, they really rank very well."

    Gonzalez-Vigil says the TPP could be a mechanism for existing trans-Pacific FTAs to be linked together to benefit all.

    "So far the negotiating teams have agreed that everything that is related to market access either in goods or services would most likely be negotiated and committed at the bilateral level. So it would be a nice architecture between the TPP as a pluri-lateral agreement on rules and basic principles, which is going to be at the same time the framework for X number of bilateral agreements," said Gonzales. "Meaning that, for instance, our U.S.-Peru FTA will not be terminated or substituted for TPP. It will co-exist."

    Crucial period for APEC

    Japan and the United States appear eager to push for concrete results in the APEC meeting this week to set a new direction for the grouping when the U.S. hosts the summit next year. This year marks the deadline for industrialized members to meet trade liberalization commitments under the Bogor goals.

    Urata says APEC is entering a crucial period in deciding its future.

    "This year, they are to discuss a new economic growth model for APEC members. That may lead to increasing interest for APEC by APEC members," said Urata. "If these two years are successful, then I think APEC will be pretty much revived."

    However, China, now Asia's biggest economy, has yet to officially express its position on the TPP. Some trade analysts say that without Chinese participation, the TPP would have less benefit. And many worry that ongoing trade friction between China and the U.S., and Beijing's territorial dispute with Japan, could overshadow efforts toward a trans-Pacific free trade zone.

    You May Like

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.