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Seminar on “Toward a Bipolar Trading Order? China vs. the US”

Tuesday, 5 June 2018 – Under the Trump administration, the US has withdrawn from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and has aggressively undertaken unilateral trade measures. Meanwhile, China has promoted its One Belt, One Road Initiative as well as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Are China and the US now at loggerheads and are we on the verge of a trade war? Are there now two distinct competing visions of a new global economic order? To help answer these questions, the Singapore APEC Study Centre at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute invited Professor Vinod K Aggarwal (Professor of Political Science, Affiliated Professor in the Haas School of Business) who shared some riveting insights on the subject.

From left to right: Dr Siwage Dharma Negara, Coordinator of the APEC Study Centre, and Professor Vinod K Aggarwal, Professor of Political Science, Affiliated Professor in the Haas School of Business. (Credit: ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute)

Following the introductory remarks by Dr Siwage Dharma Negara, Coordinator of the APEC Study Centre, Professor Aggarwal began his presentation, first, by shedding some light on the problems faced by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs), multilateral regional accords, and more recently, so called mega-FTAs. Comparing America’s broad trade strategies under President Obama and President Trump, he spoke about the US withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the country’s systemic-, domestic-, and ideational challenges with regard to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the European Union. Directing the audience’s attention to the trade policy followed by the current government, he presented interesting views on the origins of the assault on the “Liberal Order” and the administration’s objective of revising the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and renegotiating bilateral trade deals with major partners all around the world.

Professor Aggarwal during his presentation (Credit: ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute)

Apart from the American story, Professor Aggarwal also focussed on the “Trade Plus” strategy being followed by China. Specifically, he spoke about the progress made by the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to counter the US pivot to Asia, and the ambitious One Belt, One Road (OBOR) project to connect China with Eurasia. Professor Aggarwal concluded the session by mentioning that, as trade deals continue to take definite shape, it is still not clear whether China will lead the global economic order in the immediate future.

The audience comprised of research scholars, students, and members of the media and the public, among others. (Credit: ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute)

The seminar was 90 minutes long, and was attended by an audience of 55 people, including research scholars, students, members of the media and the public. The guest speaker also answered their questions on an array of topics, including: the impact of a bipolar trading world on smaller economies, the status of India-APEC relations, labour policy and job losses, and the growth of global trade vs. GDP expansion.

Singapore APEC Study Centre Seminar on APEC: A Changed Global Landscape, Rising Protectionism, and Directions Ahead

Tuesday, 6 December 2016 – This public seminar featured four panellists - Dr Alan Bollard (APEC), Mr Eduardo Pedrosa (PECC), Dr Malcolm Cook (ISEAS), and Ms Joanne Guo Wei Ling (SBF). Dr Francis Hutchinson, Senior Fellow and Coordinator of the Regional Economic Studies Programme at ISEAS, moderated the panel. 

Dr Bollard, the Executive Director of the APEC secretariat, provided an overview of the APEC meetings in Lima, Peru. He highlighted the call from APEC leaders for “Globalization 2.0” with three main characteristics: (i) an inclusive globalization that emphasizes how to manage the distributional effects and how to communicate them better; (ii) a new globalization that shifts the focus from the manufacturing to the larger services sector; (iii) a soft globalization that pays attention to the APEC’s approach of obtaining voluntary consensus. 

(Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Mr Pedrosa, the Secretary General of the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council, provided a summary of their annual survey of government, business and academic leaders in APEC (reported in The State of the Region 2016-2017). He stressed the bifurcation of views between the advanced and developing economies: those from developing economies were relatively more optimistic about regional trade agreements, whereas those from advanced economies perceived an urgent need to manage anti-trade sentiments. He also highlighted that structural reforms and barriers to data flows were key impediments to services trade, the largest driver of growth in recent times. He concluded by noting that positive views towards APEC nearly doubled in 2014, and has been sustained till present (2016).

Dr Francis Hutchinson, ISEAS Senior Fellow and Coordinator of the Regional Economic Studies Programme, moderating the seminar "APEC: A Changed Global Landscape, Rising Protectionism, and Directions Ahead" (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Cook, a Senior Fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, provided a historical overview of APEC, its membership, and its objectives. He emphasized that APEC did not only serve economic functions, but provided a platform for dialogue over many non-economic issues. He also discussed APEC’s role in the backdrop of evolving strategic relations between China and a Trump-led US. He also highlighted how discussion has centred on having a trading architecture of Asia-Pacific versus East Asian countries.

Ms Guo, Assistant Director of the Singapore Business Federation, provided the perspective of the business community. She highlighted that with the unlikely implementation of the TPP, businesses would look for opportunities in other countries. She conveyed that the business community is hopeful for bilaterals and other regionals that might lead up to a Free Trade Area of Asia-Pacific (FTAAP). She also expressed her hope that the standards proposed in the TPP will live on in one form or another. More than 60 participants attended the Seminar. 

Participants at the seminar (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)