Nation to cooperate with ASEAN to protect global free trade
Since President Xi Jinping delivered a staunch defense of globalization and free trade at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland in January, amid growing protectionist sentiment in the U.S., China has been pushing for trade liberalization in many multilateral platforms in the past few months and rallying countries to oppose protectionism.
In the latest example, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, during a meeting with his counterparts from the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) on Sunday in Manila, capital of the Philippines, suggested that China and ASEAN accelerate the implementation of upgrades to the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area and jointly safeguard the global free trade system.
Wang further urged that China and ASEAN work together to lead the regional economic integration process and push for expedited negotiations for a sweeping regional free trade deal, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), according to a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday.
The RCEP is being negotiated among 16 countries, including the 10 countries of ASEAN, China, Japan and India.
It just completed its 19th round of negotiations in India at the end of July.
While some media reports suggested that negotiations for the mega free trade deal could be completed by the end of 2017, Chinese experts on Monday raised doubts, citing major differences in market openness and other terms among the countries.
"I doubt that it can be done by the end of this year," Bai Ming, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, told the Global Times on Monday.
Bai said that though all the countries are showing commitment to completing the trade deal, the process has been stalled by differences among countries at different stages of economic development. "For example, India has the lowest level of market openness," he said.
Chen Fengying, a research fellow at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, also said that countries like India are reluctant to agree to proposals for wider market openness from countries like Japan.
With such differences, China and ASEAN have a larger role to play in pushing for the deal.
"Both China and ASEAN are pushing for a more neutral proposal, where the RCEP will start out at a lower standard and improve gradually," Chen said. "We can't let the two opposite proposals continue to stall the process. We need to move forward, even if that means we have to leave some countries out in the initial stage."
Defending free trade
Recent negotiations over the RCEP are just the latest effort by China in pushing for regional free trade deals and rallying countries to jointly protect the global free trade mechanism. The U.S., under President Donald Trump, has been seeking to focus more on bilateral deals, blaming unfair multilateral trade deals and economic globalization for American domestic economic woes.
Last week, following a two-day meeting in Shanghai, trade ministers from the emerging BRICS countries - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - agreed to support a multilateral trade mechanism and fight against trade protectionism.
In early July, at the G20 Summit in Hamburg, which was also attended by Trump, Xi called on members of the G20 to build an open world economy and a multilateral trade regime, the
Xinhua News Agency reported on July 8. In the final communique of the summit, the G20 leaders agreed they would "fight protectionism including all unfair trade practices."
China also hosted a major conference on the Belt and Road initiative in Beijing in May, and leaders of 30 countries attended the meeting and declared in a communique that they "oppose all forms of protectionism."
Experts said such efforts from China are necessary for both the Chinese and global economy at a time of rising protectionism sentiment.
"China has to stand up and take a clear-cut stand against trade protectionism, because that's good for China and for other countries," Bai said. "So far China has been persistent and has gained support from a lot of countries."