Monday, July 09, 2007

Free Trade 4: FTA in APEC

The coming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Sydney, Australia this coming September, is looking to produce one good result: a possible free trade area (FTA) among the 21 member-countries. Of course, like most if not all FTA visions around the world, an FTA will become a reality in 10 or 20 years from date of signing, if not longer. Nonetheless, it's better than not putting that vision at all.

This is expected to be the "fallback" position after the failed talks on reviving the Doha talks between the big and representative countries of the poor world and the rich world, and should other efforts to revive it will fail again.

Usually, agreements and communique like this among member-countries of any alliance or grouping of countries, will be full of "provided that" and other conditions, before any real free trade area can become a reality.

If countries, or better yet, trade negotiators and politicians of those countries, are serious in having free trade, no agreement with other countries is necessary. They can always declare a unilateral trade liberalization, and that's it. Hong Kong has done it; Dubai, Chile, Singapore, other smaller economies are doing it.

This means that trade "activists" who are leaning towards free market should not play along with those groups and individuals who declare, "free trade yes, on condition that...." We better address ourselves to the general public the "net gains" and benefit from free trade.

Last year, I wrote this:

Pan-Asia free trade area

September 05, 2006

A news from has this story,

Japan set to kick-start pan-Asian free trade area" by Lisbeth Kirk
21.08.2006 - 09:57

Japan minister of economy Toshihiro Nikai is set to unveil plans for a pan-Asian free trade area of 3.1 billion people, half the world'spopulation, Malaysian news agency Bernama has reported ahead of the 38thASEAN Economic Ministers meeting starting today in Kuala Lumpur.

The free trade area would include ASEAN-countries Australia, China, SouthKorea, India, Japan and New Zealand and would be promoted by a Japanese fundof 100 million US dollars....

The 39-year-old ASEAN bloc agreed already in October 2003 to set up a singlemarket by 2020, modelled on the EU. But ministers meeting this week hope to speed up the plans and get it ready by 2015. "We need to muster political will to create the AEC [Asean EconomicCommunity] by 2015, instead of 2020," ASEAN secretary-general Ong Keng Yongsaid, according to AP.

China and ASEAN have already agreed to create no-tariff zone by 2010 intheir combined market of 2 billion people.... ASEAN is the America's fourth largest trading partner. ASEAN was established on 8 August 1967 in Bangkok by Indonesia, Malaysia,Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Burma andCambodia have joined later....

This is a good development. Better than no regional or continental free trade area at all. Of course, there will be free trade among countries as early astomorrow if governments will not hinder trade.

Almost all people around the world want bargains, they want more choices. And only free trade, of big supply of various goods and commoditiesfrom everywhere, can do that. The job of trade protectionism, sometimes called "fair trade", is to restrict trade, to limit supply of various goods and services available to consumers, to limit choices.

What the governments of Japan and other countries do in the above plan is phasing out trade protectionism little by little, and any form of trade liberalization should be done with their consent first. Hence, if theywant full free trade to be realized in 20 years, or 30 years, or 50years, that's what will happen. If governments are out of the picture of regulating trade, then free trade can happen anytime. Government's main job should be to regulate and control criminals and robbers, terrorists and killers. Regulating trade that makes life easier for people, especially the poor and jobless, by giving them access to cheaper food, cheaper clothes, cheaper farm inputs, and so on, is bad and wrong "role" of government.

About the Doha round, me thinks US' Trade Rep. Susan Schwab should better talk to Prof. Jagdish Bhagwati, a famous academic economist (Indian-American, i think) in the US, than moving around talking to the trade reps of China and other countries. Dr. Bhagwati argued in some recentpapers for a unilateral trade liberalization for the US and estimated the benefits for the US economy in terms of economic growth and job creation. Hence, Mr. Bhagwati has no problem with EU's high export subsidies, high agri subsidies, and so on. But Ms. Susan Schwab has lots of angsts on such export subsidies, the same with her counterparts in the EU and Australia and Japan and many other countries.

On another note, When globalization hits home...

Globalization will definitely hit homes, wherever they may be. A city can experience job losses when a big company packs up and puts up its office or manufacturing plant in another country, the same way that the same city created new jobs when that firm that left came a few years ago, or a new firm comes in.

Many governments in developing countries are allergic to the idea of de-bureaucratizing business regulations, so many of their people are working abroad if not migrating outright to pursue their ambition and entrepreneurial spirit.

And many governments of rich countries are also allergic to the idea of reducing business taxes and of leaving wage-setting to the employers and the market. So many of their companies are leaving and putting up manufacturing plants and offices in developing countries.

These plus many other aspects of capital and labor mobility are all part of globalization. There are losers, definitely, but there are also gainers. Overall, there is net gain, or the number of gainers are plentier than the losers. But if the initial losers will learn to adjust and be flexible, they become gainers later.

One reader asked, “how much longer should the losers wait?”

It depends. A chicken farmer who has been raising chicken all his adult life and suddenly shifts to producing other livestock or crops that experience price hikes while chicken prices are going down can benefit from globalization and make money quick.

While those losers who just wait for new or additional subsidies from the state, and continue producing goods and services that experience price declines due to competition from other producers abroad, can remain losers for the rest of their lives.

See also:
Free Trade 1: Estonia's Free Market, Globalization, May 09, 2006
Free Trade 2: Unilateral Trade Liberalization, May 17, 2006
Free Trade 3: Protectionism Perpetuate Poverty, September 05, 2006

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