Building Blocks Towards an Asia-Pacific Union
By Dana Gabriel
Although some may have viewed President Barack Obama’s recent Asian trip as uneventful and perhaps unsuccessful, he appears to have recommitted to the principles of globalization as the answer to the world’s economic woes. Obama declared his intentions for the U.S. to be fully engaged in Asia economically, politically, and in areas of security. He announced that America would join negotiations for a Trans-Pacific deal. This could be used as an opportunity for the U.S. to reassert its leadership in regards to trade initiatives and might also serve as a stepping stone for a larger free trade agreement.
The recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit was held in Singapore and marked its 20th anniversary. It brought together world leaders, foreign, finance and trade ministers, along with other delegates from its 21 member nations. APEC was founded to promote greater trade and integration in the region, but its scope has expanded to include environmental, climate change, energy, as well as other issues. In a Statement by APEC Leaders, they agreed to a new growth paradigm for the Asia-Pacific region, endorsed the goals of the G20 Framework and rejected protectionism. The Leaders, “launched a pathfinder initiative led by Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, and the United States to practice self-certification of origin so that businesses can better take advantage of free trade agreements in the region.” This is in an effort to cut costs for exporters and further boost trade. APEC Leaders also agreed to, “continue to explore building blocks towards a possible Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific in the future.”
While on his eight-day Asian tour, which included stops in Japan, Singapore, China, as well as South Korea, President Obama recommitted to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). It was President George W. Bush who first pledged U.S. participation in the TPP. The trade deal was put on hold pending a review of U.S. trade policy. A government fact sheet describes the TPP as a, “potential platform for economic integration across the Asia Pacific region. The United States will engage with an initial group of seven like-minded countries, Singapore, Chile, New Zealand, Brunei, Australia, Peru, and Vietnam, to craft a platform for a high-standard, comprehensive agreement – one that reflects U.S. priorities and values – with these and additional Asia-Pacific partners.” Australia will host TPP negotiation sessions in March of next year and a trade treaty could be in place by 2011. Many nations in the region are already bound by various regional and bilateral trade agreements. Expanding the TPP would further distinguish it as the only regional free trade agreement that spans both sides of the Pacific, linking Asia with the Americas. It could also gradually evolve into an Asia-Pacific free trade zone and include APEC members, as well as other nations. Such an undertaking is seen as years away, but U.S. participation in the TPP could speed up such plans.
The United States Trade Representative website reported that after the APEC Summit, “USTR staff and their TPP country counterparts met to discuss work that would need to be done to develop proposals to fill gaps in previous trade agreements and to shape a 21st century trade agreement. These discussions will inform consultations with Congress and with stakeholders about how best to move forward on TPP.” In his article above referenced, Jim Capo noted that, “For the US to undertake negotiations for a trade agreement Congress has first to grant approval to start specific negotiations, and has also to grant Trade Promotion Authority to enable the Executive to conclude the negotiations and put an agreement to Congress with a yes or no vote, without amendments.” He goes on to say that, “There has been no formal Congress approval of TPPA negotiation, President Bush’s Trade Promotion Authority has also expired in March 2007. This means the current US administration has no approval to start negotiation and no authority to conclude them.”
Ahead of the APEC Summit, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd proposed an Asia-Pacific Community by 2020. The regional group would be based on the European Union-style model. It would go beyond APEC and encompass not only economic, but political and security issues. In October of this year, Republican Senator Richard Lugar announced his intentions to introduce legislation aimed at negotiating a free trade agreement with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). The first ASEAN-U.S. Leaders meeting was held in Singapore on November 15. In a Joint Statement the U.S., “welcomed ASEAN’s plans to achieve an ASEAN Community by 2015 based on the ASEAN Charter, and reaffirmed its commitment to support those plans.” ASEAN and the U.S. also agreed to hold a second Leaders meeting in 2010.
On his Asian trip, Obama emphasized the need to strengthen old alliances as well as build new partnerships in the region. He said, “the growth of multilateral organizations can advance the security and prosperity of the region.” He also added, “As an Asia-Pacific nation the United States expects to be involved in the discussions that shape the future of this region and to participate fully in appropriate organizations as they are established and evolve.” In his article above referenced, Jim Capo noted that, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement is the sister agreement to the Trans-Atlantic Agenda. Together with NAFTA and the North American Leaders Summit (new name for the discredited SPP), these deals are building blocks for an integrated system of global governance managed by Western financial interests and their collaborators around the world.”
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Dana Gabriel is an activist and independent researcher. He writes about trade, globalization, sovereignty, as well as other issues.