Asian Trade Strategies

The Crawford School, through the East Asian Bureau of Economic Research, hosted a large number of distinguished Australian and international guests for a roundtable and public forum to discuss Asian Trade Strategies on 18–19 September 2013 at The Australian National University.
This two-day event brought together trade economists, country-specific experts, trade policy makers from international organisations and the Australian government, as well as researchers from regional institutions. Distinguished guests included former World Trade Organisation chief economist Patrick Low, former US trade negotiator Geza Feketekuty and former Australian Minister for Trade and Competitiveness, Craig Emerson.
The attendees formed an assembly of key individuals engaged in the development of frameworks for trade and domestic trade policy and provided dialogue from a variety of perspectives on the most recent developments in trade in the Asian region.
The theme was explored in discussions covering a wide range of topics relevant to the dynamics of trade in the Asian region including country-specific trade strategies, the live negotiation of the two major regional trade agreements — the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) — the ongoing relevance of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and non-traditional barriers to trade. These
discussions will be useful to the development of Australian trade strategies and those of other Asian countries in years to come.

The Roundtable

The roundtable on day one gave attendees a chance to deliberate on regional trade policy issues. The first session focussed on the interests of the major players in regional trade — China, India, Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — with especial focus on their relationship to the two significant mega-regional trade agreements — the TPP and RCEP. The second session turned to new issues in Asian trade that present challenges to the established trade framework. These issues included supply chain trade, foreign investment and behind the border barriers to trade. The third session facilitated discussion on issues relating to the existing frameworks for trade negotiation in the Asian region. In particular, presentations focused on the relevance of the multilateral framework provided by the WTO and the implications of the proliferation of bilateral free trade agreements in the Asian region.

The Public Forum

Several of the leading contributors to the roundtable discussion participated in the public forum on Day two. The first panel, chaired by Professor Peter Drysdale, covered the issues surrounding the TPP and RCEP, which currently dominate the shape of trade negotiations in the Asian region. This session drew on contributions from Dr Shiro Armstrong (ANU), Professor He Fan (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), Professor Takashi Terada (Doshisha University) and Dr Ganeshan Wignaraja (Asian Development Bank). The second panel, chaired by Dr Craig Emerson, discussed the reform and expansion of existing trade frameworks to accommodate changes in the nature of trade. This session drew on the expertise of Professor Philippa Dee (ANU), Geza Feketekuty (Institute for Trade and Commerical Diplomacy), Dr Patrick Low (Fung Global Institute) and Dr Jayant Menon (Asian Development Bank). The public forum attracted a large audience including senior members of the Australian Public Service and representatives from foreign missions in Australia, as well as business organisations. It consolidated the insights of the previous day’s discussion and gave a broad audience an opportunity to engage with trade policy experts on trade in the Asian region.

Key Issues

Head of EABER, Professor Peter Drysdale, emphasised in his closing statements that there was significant momentum behind trade liberalisation in Asia but that it was ‘in danger of getting bogged down in negotiations that were too narrowly conceived’. The collection of bilateral agreements and a potential contest between the two mega-regional trade agreements present significant hurdles to effective trade liberalisation in the region.
The success of integration efforts in the region rest importantly on domestic policy reform as well as reforms to the frameworks supporting multilateral trade negotiation. ANU researcher Andrew Elek summed up much of this issue in his comment that ‘The existing trade negotiation paradigm does not reflect the realities of modern commerce in Asia’.
Ultimately, furthering economic integration in the Asian region is contingent upon coalescing trade and economic strategies in order to allow constructive engagement with multilateral trade frameworks. Asian Development Bank lead economist in trade and regional cooperation, Jayant Menon, who participated in both the roundtable and public forum observed that ‘Now is the time for multilaterisation’.
The Asian Trade Strategies conference facilitated valuable discussion between a specialist and general audience, producing an authoritative and up-to-date outlook on the issues around trade in Asia with the potential to inform policy both in Australia and abroad.

Public Forum: ‘Regional and Global Trade Arrangements’ (Session 1)

Public Forum: ‘New Issues and the Global Trading System’ (Session 2)

The Asian Trade Strategies Conference was organised by the East Asian Bureau of Economic Research and was hosted at The Australian National University in Canberra. The event was made possible with the support of the HC Coombs Policy Forum, the Research School of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University, the Australian National Institute of Public Policy, and Asia and the Pacific Policy Studies at the Crawford School of Public Policy.

Dates: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 to Thursday, September 19, 2013