The WTO is the world’s primary trading system, comprised of 164 member-economies scattered across all of the world’s five continents, and it is obviously in the interests of the world that it works effectively. But growing disputes between China and the Western economies are making the World Trade Organization increasingly dysfunctional. Could the result be a radical overhaul of the global trading system?
For many in Beijing, the trade war confirms long-held suspicions that the United States is determined to thwart China’s rise as the world’s next superpower. As a result, US demands that China abandon Made in China 2025 have also tended to be viewed by Beijing as being motivated not by concerns over fair competition, but by a desire to make sure America keeps its lead in the global innovation race. Public statements from senior figures in the Trump administration have fueled these concerns—the trade war not as an isolated incident, but part of a longer history of US attempts to undermine rival powers.
Few thinkers can speak about global governance with as much authority as Kishore Mahbubani. A former President of the United Nations Security Council, Permanent Secretary of Singapore’s Foreign Ministry and Dean of the renowned Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, he has been named “the muse of the Asian century”. In his latest book, due next year, Mahbubani plans to tackle the rising tensions between the US and China. As he explains, the US should embrace a more minimalist and strategic approach to foreign policy to maximize its interests in an era of Asian dominance.
Fulfilling his campaign promise, US President Donald Trump took the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). With that failure, the spotlight has now fallen on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a proposed trade deal among 16 countries in the Asia Pacific region which is widely seen as a Chinese initiative and a way of pushing back against US influence in Asia. However, compared to TCC, the RCEP has a much narrower scope and labor, environment, IP, competition policy, issues screaming for attention will not be significantly discussed. Meanwhile, TPP is not completely down without the US: Strong incentives for the TPP or a “TPP-lite” will remain.
Global trade used to be hailed with no doubt. But today, the international mood for globalization has to a great extent shifted. The deeply-held views on free trade and open access for all, which are at the heart of the globalization trend of recent decades, have been joined by ever-more insistent drum beats of dissent. From Europe and North America particularly, but from other places as well, there are calls for a rollback, for trade restrictions, for sanctions and barriers. There are those in the West who believe that to protect jobs and industries, it is necessary to replace “globalization” with “de-globalization.”
After several decades when most Western governments inclined toward freer and more global trade, the mood seems to be changing. In the US, the presidential candidates have agreed on little but the need to keep a closer eye on trade agreements. In the United Kingdom, the new Prime minister, Theresa May, seems determined to fulfill the British public’s wish to leave the European Union, despite the fact that the pound sterling sank recently to a 168-year low. Skepticism over trade deals seems likely to remain a stubborn presence in most of the mature economies, so what should Chinese companies do to react?
For the past three decades, the general political consensus in the mature Western economies has been that trade liberalization is a good thing: most economists credit rising levels of global trade and cross-border investment with lifting nearly a billion people out of poverty in the developing world and reducing prices for consumers almost everywhere. Yet despite those successes, a growing segment of the public in the mature economies sees the impact of liberal trade policies quite differently— the revisionist view sees free trade as a major cause of the declining prosperity in the mature economies. Why has an anti-globalization consensus developed?
As Asia’s heavyweight, adjusts to the so-called ‘New Normal’, the question arises of how countries across the world will deal with increased exposure to a China that is no longer posting the dizzying growth rates it once was, and which some experts feel is on the verge of a significant economic slump. While some like the UK are only now forging major economic links with China in earnest, others have been hitched to China’s economic growth for years. So when China does sneeze, who catches a cold? We give you the lowdown of who’s at risk and who’s not.
Penny Pritzker, US Secretary of Commerce, discusses the shape of the US-China trade relationship
A huge shift in trade and relations could be underway across Eurasia, and China’s New Silk Road policy is at the heart of it