(Sankei: November 21, 2015 – p. 2)
The leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum agreed in their declaration to aim for a free trade bloc that covers the entire region, with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in mind.
Twelve of the 21 APEC countries in the region including Japan and the U.S. have joined the TPP. South Korea, the Philippines, and Indonesia are now either interested in or hoping to become members as well.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other leaders of the TPP member countries have voiced their support for expanding membership in the pact. The TPP will raise the level of the regional economy, so it makes sense to expand the TPP in order to make it a more robust and open framework.
In expanding the TPP, it is necessary to maintain its high-level trade liberalization, including the removal of most tariffs, and the “quality” stipulated in the advanced rules that form the basis of the agreement. An economic order based on common values such as the rule of law and democracy must be established as a new international standard.
A TPP summit meeting was held on the sidelines of the APEC. The leaders agreed to enact the trade pact as soon as possible. There is concern that the U.S. Congress will oppose the TPP. Under the circumstances, not only the U.S. leader but also the leaders of the other TPP member countries should exercise leadership to ensure that the pact gets off to a smooth start.
Since the broad agreement was reached, some countries that are not yet members of the TPP have become interested in joining the pact. This is because those countries are realistically concerned that unless they join the framework led by the U.S. and Japan, they will be left behind.
China is still not fully governed by the rule of law. The TPP is significant because it was established by free nations such as Japan and the U.S., as opposed to China. Expanding the TPP will help keep China’s hegemony in check.
But the hurdles to joining the TPP are still high. For example, Indonesia imposes an embargo on unprocessed ore, which has been labeled as protectionism. Each country has its own circumstances, but these must not be allowed to affect the broad TPP agreement.
Not only China but also Russia, a member of APEC, is keeping its distance from the TPP, probably because of rivalry against the U.S. China places importance on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which includes Japan, South Korea, Southeast Asian countries, and India. The U.S. is not included in the framework.
While the APEC leaders’ declaration referred to the TPP, it also called for the early conclusion of the RCEP. This shows that China had an influence on the declaration. Negotiations on the RCEP are delayed on account of China and Indonesia placing priority on their own interests. If China truly wants to promote the RCEP, it should demonstrate its eagerness to move the negotiations forward.