Wednesday, 17 July, 2019

Protectionism slammed as Southeast Asian leaders rally to trade pact

Southeast Asian nations vow to combat plastic debris in oceans 34th ASEAN Summit in BangkokMore
Patty Aguilar | 24 June, 2019, 11:59

While tit-for-tat tariffs between the world's biggest two economies have seen some manufacturers flee China to safer ASEAN hubs, economists say the big picture for global growth is bleak.

Seen here are Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, chairman of 34th ASEAN Summit, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, and Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

"We remained concerned over the unabating tide of protectionism and anti-globalization sentiments that continue to plague the global economy and put multilateralism under threat", the statement said.

He added the bloc would carry their trade conflict concerns to a G20 meeting in Japan next week.

The accord includes giants such as China and India but not the USA and is expected to encompass almost half the world's population and 40% of world trade.

"It (RCEP) will help off-set any impact from the ongoing trade conflict", said Prayut.

ASEAN has been in talks with China to negotiate a nonaggression pact called the "code of conduct" to prevent major armed clashes in the region. It is widely seen as a mechanism for China to draft the rules of Asia-Pacific trade, following what many believe will be an eventual United States retreat from the region.

But progress has stuttered in recent months, with India digging in over fears cheap Chinese goods could flood its massive consumer markets.

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Dr Mahathir arrived on Thursday for the summit accompanied by his wife Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Ali, Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Ignatius Darrel Leiking and Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali as well as officials from the Prime Minister's Office, Wisma Putra, Ministry of International Trade and Industry and Ministry of Economic Affairs (MEA).

The leaders have agreed "to strengthen ASEAN unity and solidarity as well as ASEAN's central role in maintaining and promoting peace, stability, harmony and prosperity in the region".

Other key issues include the planned repatriation of more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees, who have fled a military crackdown in Buddhist-majority Myanmar since August 2017 to neighboring Bangladesh in a crisis that has tested ASEAN.

"I would like to invite the people of Asean to support the football associations in their countries in order to realise this dream", he said.

The statement did not include the term Rohingya.

The South China Sea is one of the world's busiest waterways, and a potential flashpoint in the region as several ASEAN members - the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia - as well as China and Taiwan have conflicting territorial claims.

Sought for comment on the absence of any reference in Mr. Duterte's speech to China's actions in the disputed waters, Maria Ela L. Atienza, chairperson of the University of the Philippines-Diliman Political Science department, replied by e-mail on Sunday, saying: "Unfortunately, by not even mentioning the West Philippine/South China Sea dispute in his intervention, President Duterte is missing the opportunity to use the ASEAN Summit as a forum to discuss the territorial dispute". He stressed that there would also be a higher probability for "miscalculations that may spiral out of control".

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