Dr. Chris Dent of Leeds in the FT:
In my recent book, New Free Trade Agreements in the Asia-Pacific, I note how the current discussions within the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) forum to establish a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) was also proposed at Apec’s Santiago summit just two years ago. It failed then as it will probably fail now because of the immense political and technical challenge of harmonising a large number of heterogeneous bilateral FTAs into a unified regional agreement. Most of the region’s technocrats and economists acknowledge this. It is a majority rather than a minority view.
Furthermore, disagreements over agriculture alone will ensure that the FTAAP is not realistically achievable for many years, if not many decades. Japan-South Korea FTA talks are still officially stalled over a disagreement on seaweed, and not just seaweed generally but a particularly type of it (gim seaweed). Agriculture has also unravelled many other recently initiated bilateral FTA projects in the Asia-Pacific.
A growing number of trade and political economists such as myself are becoming increasingly concerned about the proliferation of FTA activity and its impact on the international trade system. It is time to devote all trade diplomacy efforts to securing a WTO Doha round.
Advocates of an FTAAP generally suggest it as a means of pressuring the EU to return to the table at the WTO rather than as an agreement they would like to see actually implemented. But if “the FTAAP is not realistically achievable for many years,” can it be a credible threat?