Debate on China's TPP role regains momentum

Updated: 2013-07-11 07:31

By Zheng Yangpeng (China Daily)

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The US and EU, though, have fallen into crisis and seen their share of global trade contract.

"The biggest question presented by the TPP and TTIP is: Is globalization still the direction in which we are heading? Are we abandoning the open multilateralism embodied by the WTO?" Zhang asked.

Ding Yifan, deputy director of the China Development Research Center, a top Chinese think tank, said: "Developed countries in North America and Europe were champions of global free trade negotiations and founders of the WTO system.

"Now they are active participants in regional free trade area negotiations. Have they lost confidence in multilateral free trade negotiations or in their own competitiveness? "

Zhang said China would like to regard the TPP as a high-standard free trade agreement and one that could provide leverage for China's reforms.

But TPP is not the only choice. Others include the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement, an agreement between the mainland and Hong Kong, the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, an agreement between the mainland and Taiwan, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, an ASEAN-led economic bloc.

No reason to fear

Zheng Yongnian, director of the East Asian Institute of the National University of Singapore, argued there is no reason for China to be afraid of the TPP, because history shows that, though many pacts were very demanding at the beginning, they lowered their standards during the negotiation process.

"What's more, China should realize that without China, the second-largest economy in the world, any international economic organization could not be effective," he said.

In March, Shinzo Abe, Japan's new prime minister, announced Japan's bid to enter the TPP talks. In late July, Abe is expected to formally announce the start of the negotiations.

With the world's third-largest economy on board, the final TPP pact will cover nearly 40 percent of global economic output and one-third of trade worldwide.

Yves Tiberghien, an associate professor with the University of British Columbia, who specializes in Japan and East Asia's economies, said it "could make sense" for Japan to pursue both the TPP and the trilateral FTA with China and South Korea.

"But to only follow the TPP, I would argue, is not in Japan's interest because, at this point, 25 percent of Japanese goods go to China while only 15 percent go to the US."

He said compared with the TPP, the trilateral FTA is more relevant to address the classic "East Asian paradox": While integrated more and more in trade and investment flows in a liberal or decentralized way, the three countries' intensive links have not been institutionalized.

He said the drawback of the TPP is that in the past few years, it was integrated into the US' "pivot to Asia" strategy and appeared to be "slightly confrontational toward China". He added: "It is a very demanding agreement. And it would not suitable for China for 10 or more years."

To make the TPP work for China, Tiberghien suggested there may be a need for "dual-tracking". A long time frame would be needed for a transitional phase.

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