Asia-Pacific countries should promote free trade pragmatically

By Qin Hong
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail People's Daily, April 6, 2012
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The Asia-Pacific economy has become the most dynamic in the world along with the eastward shift of the global economy's center of gravity. Various bilateral or multilateral free trade agreements have sprung up in the region, of which, the most popular one is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), also known as the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement.

Free trade areas (FTAs) can bring different countries' comparative advantages into play, promote competition, and improve efficiency, and are in line with the general trend of the times. However, as Asia-Pacific countries have different development levels, goals, and cultural backgrounds, trade and economic integration in the region must be promoted in a pragmatic and realistic manner.

First, practical rules are needed to ensure the smooth development of FTAs.

Second, the economic security of countries participating in free trade should be ensured.

Third, international economic conditions should be taken into consideration. The global economy is going through a difficult adjustment period, and most countries are paying greater attention to domestic demand and enhancing protectionist measures. In addition, they have less leeway, and are unlikely to make major compromises.

Fourth, participants, especially key participants, should be sincere. FTAs should be established on the basis of mutual benefit. China showed great sincerity in carrying out the Early Harvest Program with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which is partly why the ASEAN agreed to build a FTA with China.

By contrast, the United States showed little sincerity in TPP negotiations. After joining the TPP, the United States has completely revised the regional bloc's rules for its own benefit, implemented economic unilateralism, and deliberately alienated China which has played a crucial role in promoting free trade in the Asia-Pacific region. It is reasonable that certain TPP member states want China to join the group to counterbalance the United States.

Under such a context, it is understandable that the nine TPP countries failed to complete their negotiations before the APECT summit in Hawaii last year. Given the results of the 11th round of the TPP negotiations in early March, the nine countries are unlikely to complete their negotiations this year.

Furthermore, Asia-Pacific countries should learn from the European Union's mistake in understanding the regional political environment. The European Union approved the accession of unqualified Greece in the early 1980s, which ensured the bloc's security in southern Europe but planted a seed for the ongoing European sovereign debt crisis. It would be a different story if certain countries use joining the TPP talks as a tool to elevate their status and seek benefits from different parties.

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