Apec must stand firm against the tide of antiglobalisation

Zhang Jun says as the standard-bearer for effective regional integration, the grouping must redouble its efforts to deepen cooperation that leads to inclusive growth

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 November, 2016, 5:03pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 November, 2016, 7:21pm

Leaders of the Apec forum are meeting in Lima, Peru, this weekend to work on programmes of vital importance, namely, to further economic cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. With both globalisation and regional economic integration at a critical juncture, the meeting has been a focus of attention.

Today, Brexit and rising populism in politics have emboldened the voices opposing globalisation. With protectionism on the rise, trade and investment are losing momentum as a driving force of economic globalisation.

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Under such circumstances, where should the economic integration of the Asia-Pacific be heading? How can we avert the risks of globalisation running in reverse? As the most important institution for economic cooperation in the Asia-Pacific, how should the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum play its leading role?

The difficulties arising from economic globalisation and regional integration should not be denied. However, in the long run, globalisation will not stop here. Rather, it will gear up and enter a new stage. As a region with the greatest development potential and vitality in the world, the general trend of Asia-Pacific integration still holds a bright future.

Globalisation has already brought various economies closer together. More importantly, trade and investment cooperation is not a zero-sum game, and all economies can benefit.

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At the G20 summit held in Hangzhou (杭州) in September, participants committed themselves to continuing their efforts to build an open world economy, oppose protectionism, and promote global trade and investment. At the same time, they pledged to ensure that economic growth should benefit all, not just the few. As the most vigorous region for growth in the world, Asia and the Pacific is obliged to hold high the banner of promoting inclusive economic globalisation.

Apec came into being 27 years ago, towards the end of the cold war and on the back of a rising trend of economic globalisation. As the standard-bearer for economic integration, the grouping must now brave the waves of antiglobalisation and forge ahead.

Since its founding, Apec has promoted trade and investment liberalisation through advancing and enforcing the Bogor Goals, a set of objectives agreed on in 1994 for more open trade. This led to the initial formation of a common Asia-Pacific market, moving the region towards the grand objective of a free trade area of the Asia-Pacific.

The grouping advocates cooperation in physical, institutional and people-to-people connections. To this end, for example, it has introduced the Apec Business Travel Cards scheme to facilitate business travel within the region.

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Apec supports a multilateral trading system, and is committed to removing trade and investment barriers and opposing protectionism in whatever form. It promotes cooperation in global value chains and supply chains; was a key force in concluding the World Trade Organisation’s Information Technology Agreement; and has focused attention on next-generation trade and investment issues.

It is a role model in regional integration. As an organisation that counts among its members both major developed economies and developing economies at different stages of their development and with different degrees of openness, Apec features substantial diversity. Yet, it has carried forward its agenda without compromising the sovereignty of member countries. It does so through voluntary and non-binding cooperation. This means reaching a consensus through bottom-up consultations and taking a step-by-step approach. It respects the needs of its members, and encourages a sense of shared destiny among its members. This creates a harmonious environment for cooperation.

The free trade area will be highly inclusive. It will embrace economies at different levels of development

Apec is committed to development for all through the vigorous implementation of economic and technical cooperation. Developing economies within the bloc are given help to build their capacity, to ensure no one is left behind by the tide of globalisation.

In Lima, the grouping will push forward plans for an Asia-Pacific free trade area. Such efforts will serve as a rebuff of antiglobalisation sentiments and strengthen regional integration.

As envisioned, the free trade area will be highly inclusive. It will embrace economies at different levels of development and fully accommodate their needs. Once established, it will deliver economic gains dwarfing any existing regional free trade agreements.

On top of that, the pact will chart the course of integrating various trade arrangements in the region, to meet the challenge of fragmentation in regional cooperation.

In light of the pushback against globalisation, growth in global trade this year may drop to a new low since the 2008 financial crisis. Against this backdrop, the birth of an Asia-Pacific free trade area will be highly significant, and can help to steady economic growth.

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In a recent survey of opinion leaders in major economies in the region, some 80 per cent of them believed a free trade area should be initiated as early as possible to help lift Asia-Pacific economies out of difficulties.

In light of the pushback against globalisation, growth in global trade this year may drop to a new low since the 2008 financial crisis

Today, economic integration is no longer limited to trade and investment liberalisation and facilitation. Connectivity, too, has become a key driver, essential to economic development and trade promotion. As a Chinese saying goes, build roads first if you want to get rich.

The Apec Connectivity Blueprint for 2015-2025, which was adopted at the Beijing meeting in 2014, established the visionary goal of building a seamless and comprehensively connected and integrated Asia-Pacific. With the implementation of the blueprint already in full swing, positive progress has been achieved in improving the physical, institutional and people-to-people connectivity.

Having the meeting this year in Latin America will give Apec the opportunity to deepen the inclusive participation of the economies on both sides of the Pacific, to strengthen the implementation of the blueprint and beef up connectivity cooperation in both depth and breadth.

We have reason to believe the flagship of Asia-Pacific economic integration will embark on a course of smooth sailing towards common development, prosperity and progress of the region. China stands ready to work with various concerned parties and will contribute its share to the building of an open Asia-Pacific economy, and the realisation of the “Asia-Pacific dream” of common development, prosperity and progress.

Zhang Jun is director general of the Department of International Economic Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China