Time to think big on Asia-Pacific trade

Updated: 2014-11-09 14:55


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BEIJING - As Asia-Pacific leaders gather here in the coming days for the annual summit under this region's premier economic cooperation framework, hopes are running high that they will inject fresh vigor into regional economic integration.

Particularly, all eyes are on the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), an all-encompassing free trade vision for which the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) forum is expected to hatch out a roadmap.

It is undeniable that to craft a free trade zone out of a region as vast and diverse as the Asia-Pacific is extremely cumbersome and time-consuming, yet the current trend of fragmentation and incoordination has turned the region's trading system into a spaghetti bowl.

The recent decade has witnessed a mushrooming of small and medium-sized FTAs in the Asia-Pacific. From the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), it is evident that Asia-Pacific economies are truly eager to open up to each other for the sake of mutual benefit and common development.

However, due to a lack of information-sharing and transparency, such a multitude of varying and overlapping free trade mechanisms might eventually generate a myriad of complex or even contradictory rules governing regional trade, thus creating even larger barriers for traders and investors.

Thus it is high time that serious attention was paid to the FTAAP idea, which has been around for almost a decade. The overarching arrangement is intended to be open, inclusive and flexible, so as to accommodate all economies in the region and bridge trade deals both in being and in the making.

A high-quality FTAAP, studies show, could increase the size of global economy by a whopping 2.4 trillion US dollars by 2025.

As such a grand vision draws closer to reality, it is only natural for suspicions and noises to kick in. Some Western media have rushed to hype up a "China-USrivalry" for leadership in the region's mounting free trade drive.

Allegations of this sort are groundless and betray their advocates' obsession with confrontation or sensation.

The FTAAP is by no means a "solo show" of China. Rather, it is the shared aspiration of all APEC members that will bring them a wealth of benefits.

In addition, the FTAAP is not aimed at forcing out other free trade arrangements in the region, but at integrating them and making regional movement of goods and services more efficient.

With the world economy defined by globalization and Asia-Pacific economies subjected to mounting interdependence, the time is now ripe to treat the dynamic region as a whole.