TPP poses a threat to ASEAN’s integration: former WTO chief

By The Nation   June 24, 2016 | 12:21 pm GMT+7

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal may “disintegrate” the unity of 10 countries in the Southeast Asian region, Thailand’s daily newspaper The Nation cited a former World Trade Organization senior officer as saying.

ASEAN countries should focus on the Regional Cooperation on Economic Partnership (RCEP) which has ASEAN as the centre in collaboration with Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand if they want to ensure an equal growth path for the all country members, said former WTO chief Supachai Panitchpakdi.

Supachai likened the TPP to a political tool for the United States to maintain its power in Asia in light of the increasing influence of China.

He also said the RCEP is a positive mechanism to deal with geographic issues involving Asian countries.

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"[We] should not allow the TPP to disintegrate ASEAN," said Supachai Panitchpakdi in a speech to the University of Thai Chamber of Commerce's executive programme on June 23. Photo by The Nation.

"With RCEP, there is no need for these countries to go to war. Don't forget that Asia is a big spender on defense. However, RCEP will not go anywhere if some of our friends take the second row at the negotiation table," he said, referring to Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam - the four ASEAN members that have agreed to join the TPP.

He admitted that if all ASEAN countries joined the TPP, it would be a boon for the region. However, from his forecast, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar will never be qualified to join the pact.

The WTO chief has called on ASEAN countries to make the best use of multilateral trade blocs, particularly under the aegis of ASEAN, to cope with the world's economic turbulence.
"The world's economy is faltering, with slim growth of only about 2 percent a year compared with 5-6 percent growth in the past," he said. "More importantly, the global economy is becoming increasingly geopolitically influenced."

With a spate of new trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Supachai urged Thailand to find ways to negotiate with its four ASEAN peers - Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei - that have already signed up for membership to evaluate the TPP's impact on the ASEAN Economic Community.

"If Thailand needs to participate in the TPP, it should be done together with all other ASEAN members," he said.

"Moreover, the Thai government should step up efforts to wrap up talks over the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership [RCEP] within this year and should not allow the TPP to disintegrate ASEAN."

The best case would be to consolidate both the TPP and RCEP as it would benefit Asia as a whole, said Supachai.

The TPP is a trade pact signed last October by 12 countries led by the U.S. and includes Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Australia and New Zealand. The Asian members are Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei.

The economies of TPP signatories encompass 40 percent of global trade or $295 trillion a year, with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of $28.3 trillion representing 38 percent of the global total.

The RCEP was initiated in November 2012 with the aim of establishing deeper economic cooperation between the 10 ASEAN members and Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, with a focus on trade in goods and services.

The RCEP's 16 proposed member countries represent 29 percent of global trade, with a combined GDP of $21.2 trillion or 28 percent of the world total. Last November, the members voted to push for the pact's conclusion this year.

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