Post-Trump APEC meeting reiterates emphasis on free trade

Post-Trump APEC meeting reiterates emphasis on free trade

As world leaders meet in Lima, Peru to promote free trade, the looming Trump presidency and a resurgence of U.S. economic nationalism add to uncertainty surrounding TPP.

Photo taken at the initial session of the 2016 APEC Economic Leaders conference held in Lima, Peru. (Photo credit: Website of the President of the Russian Federation, www.kremlin.ru. CC license 4.0)

WASHINGTON, November 22, 2016 — In an official statement, the the leaders of the twenty-one economies that make up the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) have put on a brave face in support of free trade, with the eight hundred pound gorilla of Donald Trump’s likely trade policies looming over the summit.

“We, the Leaders of APEC, met in Lima under the theme of Quality Growth and Human Development to continue working on our common endeavor to support free and open trade and investment, sustainable economic growth and shared prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region. Within this vision, in 2016 we have focused our efforts on the following thematic priorities: Regional Economic Integration and Quality Growth; Enhancing the Regional Food Market; Towards the Modernization of Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) in the Asia-Pacific; and Developing Human Capital.”

Ministers from the twenty-one countries earlier held two days of meetings “to Set an Example for the World on Trade.”

According to Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, “This emphasized in a very clear way that free trade, open trade, is fundamental for the world’s prosperity.” Peru is hosting the 24th edition of APEC whose current conference is wrapping up in Lima. “Protectionism would hurt the twenty-one Asia Pacific economies represented here,” Kuczynski added in a prepared release.

In its mission statement, APEC calls itself “the premier Asia-Pacific economic forum,” further stating that its “primary goal is to support sustainable economic growth and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.

Also in attendance at the conference was President Obama, who kept himself busy at APEC. In a series of closed-door meeting concerning the future of TPP, he attempted to assuage the concerns of world leaders.

Significantly, this visit to APEC is likely the last official foreign trip for President Obama. It comes at a time when the paradigm for free trade and its effect on businesses and industries across the globe faces potentially significant changes when the Trump Administration takes power in January of 2017.

Trump has gained a reputation for being against free trade and more in favor of the primacy of national interests. However, his position is more nuanced than has generally been reported in the media. He appears to favor bilateral trade deals over multilateral trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) passed under President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

Trump has already signaled a desire to strike a free trade agreement with Britain, now that the UK has begun the process of extricating itself from the European Union (EU). But he remains highly critical of NAFTA as well as the massive Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, a treaty not yet approved by Congress that  involves fourteen countries. It has yet to be ratified by Congress and is staunchly opposed by Republican majorities in both Houses.

According to a report in the Global Post,

“Donald Trump‘s election has upended the annual APEC leaders’ summit where world leaders sought to calm frayed nerves and emphasize that there are ways to save a massive trade deal that the president-elect has vowed to kill.

“The Trans-Pacific Partnership can’t go ahead without the approval of two biggest economies involved in the deal – the United States and Japan.”

In a story on the APEC summit appearing in the Japan Times, Obama appeared to acknowledge the headwinds currently facing U.S. ratification of TPP. “When jobs and capital can move across borders, when workers have less leverage, when wealthy corporations seem to be playing by a different set of rules, then workers and communities can be hit especially hard,” he said.

Next year’s APEC will be held in Da Nang, Vietnam.

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