Dr Carl Thayer, emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales and an expert on Southeast Asia. — Photo vneconomictimes.vn
Dr Carl Thayer, emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales and an expert on Southeast Asia, talks to Vietnam News Agency ahead of the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting that will take place in Đà Nẵng City next month.
As you know, the APEC Summit will take place in early November in Đà Nẵng (Việt Nam). In your opinion, what are the most important concerns for APEC members this year at their summit?
The major concern for most APEC members is how to advance their goal of achieving further liberalization of trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific Region through the Free Trade Agreement in Asia and the Pacific (FTAAP) at a time of rising anti-globalization and protectionism. Allied to this, APEC members will be concerned to maintain the relevance of their organization at a time of challenges raised by competing initiatives such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and China’s Belt and Road Initiative as well as President Donald Trump’s shift away from multilateralism to bilateralism in trade.
APEC members need to commit to implementing the Lima Declaration on the FTAAP by developing multi-year work plans setting out key milestones.
What are the major challenges for APEC members in terms of trade facilitation, economic development within the bloc and with outside partners?
The major challenges to trade facilitation and economic development are protectionist sentiment in countries experiencing low rates of growth and resistance to new and higher standards such as embodied in the now defunct Trans Pacific Partnership. These higher standards include emphasis on liberalizing services, protection for intellectual property rights, greater emphasis on opening up for ecommerce and digital trade and women’s empowerment. Xi Jinping has taken a global leadership role in supporting globalization while Donald Trump has favored protectionism through his America First policy.
APEC members need to completely support the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade Facilitation to lower costs by improving how the global supply chain functions and eliminate non-trade barriers.
Do you think this could be a tough time for the host Việt Nam to balance relationships among powers who are also APEC members? Why and why not?
Việt Nam will use the opportunity as chair for APEC 2017 to host official visits to Hà Nội by China’s President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump. This will not be a particularly tough time for Việt Nam because there is growing convergence between Beijing and Washington on how to deal with the nuclear threat in North Korea and how to settle differences over bilateral trade. Vietnamese diplomacy has always been adept at playing off differences and convergences in the material interests of major powers. As a result both China and the United States will see it is in their interest to support Việt Nam’s autonomy and role as a positive contributor to regional security.
What will be the major breakthrough in terms of agenda and discussion among top leaders at the APEC Summit 2017 this time?
ASEAN Economic Ministers set four major priorities: promoting sustainable, innovative and inclusive growth, deepening regional economic integration, strengthening the competitiveness and innovation of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in the digital age, and enhanced food security and sustainable agriculture in response to climate change. Each of these areas has seen intensive in-depth discussion by work groups prior to the summit. The major breakthrough will be to secure consensus by APEC members that national reforms and adherence to higher international standards are necessary to implement these priorities and to set a putative deadline to work towards full implementation. Individual economies must publicly commit themselves to attain these goals.
What should Việt Nam do as APEC host to push an agenda that benefits the nation’s economic development at this summit?
Việt Nam has already put in the necessary effort to push APEC’s reform agenda in the many meetings by working groups, senior officials and ministers already held. Việt Nam will have to exercise proactive leadership to overcome any unexpected logjams on particular issues. The APEC Economic Ministers have set the necessary priorities. Việt Nam needs to lobby for financial and other support to advance its own national development. The best way to achieve this is bilateral meetings on the side and by hosting separate official visits by key government leaders.
What should APEC leaders do to enhance the bloc’s connection for trade and economic development?
APEC leaders must reject protectionism and step up the pace of reform by adopting higher standards designed to facilitate trade at a time of structural reform, such as services and digital trade. This will not be easy. This means a commitment to open up economies on the basis of national work plans with putative deadlines.
Do you have any further comments on APEC and Việt Nam?
Việt Nam’s hosting of the APEC Summit for the second time illustrates the importance of its longstanding policy of diversifying and multilateralizing its external relations. Việt Nam will be able to showcase its economic development in the modern city of Đà Nẵng and demonstrate that Việt Nam is a strong and positive contributor to regional and global security. In turn, Việt Nam can solicit further support from APEC’s more advance economies to advance its development goals. — VNS
* Dr Carl Thayer is Emeritus Professor at the University of New South Wales, Australia, and Director of Thayer Consultancy.