‘Trump effect’ jams up Apec free trade consensus

11-Nov-2017 Intellasia | AFP | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Asia-Pacific ministers struggled Thursday to agree on a joint statement on free trade, a rare tussle over a normally routine document that highlights how Donald Trump’s protectionist “America First” stance is knotting up global trade relations.

World leaders are gathering in the Vietnamese city of Danang this week for the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum.

Russia’s Vladimir Putin, US President Trump, and China’s Xi Jinping are among the power players who will attend the 21-member summit — the latter pair giving speeches likely to present divergent visions on the future of global trade on Friday.

But even before Trump’s expected touchdown on Friday, regional diplomats found themselves in a wrangle sparked by the White House’s new policy direction.

Donald Trump, who will fly to Vietnam for the APEC forum this week, has railed against free trade deals, describing them as bad for US jobs, and instead favouring a rebalanced "fair" trade system (AFP)

Over the last 48 hours trade and foreign ministers have been in talks over issuing a joint statement detailing their common goals, normally something of a formality.

But this year they have so far been unable to reach a consensus.

Three diplomatic sources with knowledge of the talks said the cause was US negotiators sticking to their “America First” lines and pushing for more protectionist wording.

“We are now feeling the Trump effect at Apec,” one source told AFP, requesting anonymity.

Trump has railed against free trade deals, describing them as bad for US jobs, and instead favouring a rebalanced “fair” trade system — a message he has reiterated in Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing during visits this week.

“The US has concerns about references to free trade and protectionism,” added a second diplomatic source at Apec.

“It’s the same as G20,” a third source added, referencing a global gathering of finance ministers in March when leaders there bowed to US pressure and for the first time dropped a routine pledge to keep world trade free and open.

Australian trade minister Steven Ciobo played down reports of discord, sayi “each country wants it to reflect their values,” he told AFP.

“I’m confident we’ll get a good statement,” he told AFP.

But there was still no sign of a joint statement when hosts Vietnam held their already delayed press conference on Thursday afternoon.

- Salvaging TPP? -

Trump’s ascent to the White House has upended years of US-led pushes for more open global trade and lower tariffs.

One of his first moves after taking office was to pull US support for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, an American-led initiative between 12 Pacific countries that deliberately excluded Washington’s big regional rival China.

The remaining 11 countries, which include Japan, Australia, Malaysia and Vietnam, have since struggled to reboot the deal.

China has stepped into the void, portraying itself as the world’s global free trade leader and pushing its own version of TPP.

Ministers from the TPP-11 nations met on the sidelines of the summit but have made little headway crafting a new deal without access to the US markets.

Malaysian trade minister Mustapa Mohamed told local media that there were “many contentions” remaining.

“At one stage we consider it is difficult for the TPP to be revived, but some countries led by Japan feel that TPP-11 is still worth it,” he added.

Much of the talk at Apec has centred around populist winds opposed to free trade, especially in the United States and Europe.

“There’s a lot of sentimemt for de-globalisation. But I don’t see any alternative,” Victoria Kwakwa, vice president of the World Bank’s East Asia and Pacific department, told delegates.

Globalisation, she said, “has really brought unprecedented economic prosperity globally” including helping to double global GDP between 1990 and 2015 and lift a billion people out of poverty over the same period.




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