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

    Multimedia Obama Calls on Americans to Help the Families of Its War Dead

    In last Memorial Day of his presidency, Obama lays wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery

    The Strife of the Party: Will Trump Permanently Alter Republicans?

    While billionaire mogul's no-holds-barred style, high-energy delivery are what rocketed him to nomination, they also have created rift between party elites and his supporters

    China's Education Reforms Spark Protest

    Beijing is putting a quota system in place to increase the number of students from poor regions attending universities

    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.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora