HM Sultan Brunei and Pacific Rim Leaders OK Roadmap to China-led FTA

HM Sultan Brunei (left) together with other APEC Economic Leaders, President Indonesia, President USA, President China and  with Prime Minister Japan and Australia Prime Minister before the official photo shoot

HM Sultan Brunei and other APEC Economic Leaders Group Photo

QURATUL-AIN BANDIAL

BEIJING, Wednesday, November 12, 2014 - LEADERS of Asia-Pacific economies endorsed a roadmap towards the realisation of the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) yesterday, marking the launch of a “historic” process.

The Chinese-led trade initiative comes as progress on the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has stalled, and Beijing tries to claim a bigger role in US-dominated global trade and financial structures.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said the 21 member economies of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum must play a leading role in regional economic integration.

The FTAAP would benefit both developed and developing economies, Xi told reporters after the conclusion of the two-day APEC leaders’ meeting in Beijing.

“Post-financial crisis... development of the Asia-Pacific depends on innovation and reform. We must create a new driving force,” he said.

APEC leaders including His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam also expressed support for the conduct of a feasibility study on the FTAAP.

The announcement yesterday overshadowed US President Barack Obama’s efforts to re-start momentum on the TPP – a pact that excludes China – which has been beleaguered by disagreements over provisions on agriculture and intellectual property.

Analysts say the rival trade frameworks pit the US against China in a bid for pre-eminence in Asia, but leaders of both countries said the agreements would complement each other and bring economic prosperity to all nations involved.

China also backs the ASEAN-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a free trade zone that encompasses Southeast Asia, East Asia, Australia and India but excludes the US.

The “noodle bowl” of overlapping trade agreements could establish conflicting standards that are difficult to reconcile but the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council, a research network that acts as an observer at APEC meetings, said the successful conclusion of RCEP and TPP negotiations would help to advance FTAAP in the long run.

“RCEP and the TPP are critical and arguably indispensable steps toward FTAAP, but will not guarantee its realisation... Since neither negotiation includes both China and the United States, much of the economic and political benefits of regional economic integration would be still unrealised,” the council said in a report published this month.

The FTAAP could act as an umbrella agreement to complement RCEP and TPP, and provide comprehensive economic benefits to all nations involved, said the council. “The larger the trade arrangement, the greater the benefits and less the diversionary effects.”

The Brunei Times

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