The State of Asia Pacific Free Trade


February 11, 2017

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Number 370 | February 10, 2017
ANALYSIS

The State of Asia Pacific Free Trade

By Eduardo Pedrosa

On January 23, three days after taking office, President Donald Trump issued a memorandum to permanently withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), fulfilling one of his campaign promises. The decision came amidst rising concerns about the future of globalization. Since 2006, the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council (PECC) has been undertaking an annual survey of policy experts to provide insights into the debate about free trade and globalization. The belief that the best route to growth is through freer trade is under siege, with accusations from seemingly opposite poles of the political spectrum, that globalization only benefits the top ten or even 1 percent of citizens of a particular country.

Trade-skeptic sentiments are strongest in high income economies. As seen in the PECC survey, respondents from high income economies like the United States gave the lowest assessment of the political environment for freer trade with a net favorability rating of only +16 percent, compared to +41 percent in emerging economies. While the decision to withdraw the US from the TPP may have been driven by opposition to this particular trade deal rather than free trade generally, it will nonetheless hamper attempts to modernize trade rules already out of synch with commercial reality.

In place of the TPP, the Trump administration has said that it will pursue a series of bilateral deals, an approach that runs counter to a trend to consolidate multi-member trade deals in the Asia-Pacific region.  The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations, for example, are an attempt to consolidate ASEAN’s existing bilateral agreements, and the Pacific Alliance (PA) consolidates a series of bilateral agreements among Latin American economies.

The reason for this consolidation was that the “spaghetti bowl” of bilateral agreements was making it harder and more costly to do business, especially for smaller firms. Much of the increase in global trade in recent years has come from the emergence of global value chains. These international chains of production require components to cross borders multiple times. Global value chains have led to a significant reduction in the prices of goods such as cars and mobile phones, making them more affordable for consumers. However, complex rules of origin in bilateral deals made them hard to use and hence costs were passed on to the consumer.

The introduction of more border taxes will raise costs for consumers, and is unlikely to create the kinds of jobs people hope for. Where businesses choose to base production depends on a variety of factors – proximity to the market, availability of skills, ease of doing business, and the applicable tax regime. The current uncertainty over policy is adding to the economic volatility evident since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, with businesses taking a ‘wait and see’ attitude towards hiring and capital expenditure. One reason for this attitude is uncertainty and negative expectations for future global growth. Increased trade frictions are likely to lead to even greater caution from members of the corporate sector, encouraging them to keep even more cash on their balance sheets. Concerns about protectionism are rising dramatically, with 32 percent of respondents to the PECC survey selecting it as a top five risk to economic growth compared to 16 percent two years ago. North Americans were the most worried about the impact of rising protectionism on their economies with 52 percent of respondents picking it as a top five risk to growth (making it the 2nd highest risk).

“If progress is made on trade deals such as the RCEP and PA, businesses will view the economies involved as beneficial locations to operate.”

If progress is made on trade deals such as the RCEP and PA, businesses will view the economies involved as beneficial locations to operate because of lower costs, a predictable trade environment, and proximity to the world’s fastest growing markets. A fifth of North American respondents to the PECC survey thought that the RCEP would have a negative impact on their economy – echoing a concern from an earlier era about ‘drawing a line down the Pacific.’ This uncertainty about transpacific cooperation comes at a critical juncture – over the next 5 years the Asia-Pacific is expected to account for almost two-thirds of all global growth.

The PECC survey results also give some indication of the challenges to freer trade today. Respondents were asked to rate different factors that influence attitudes toward freer trade: income inequality, job security, failure to communicate the benefits of trade, slower global economic growth, and sustained political leadership. Two findings stand out: First, North American respondents were much more concerned about all factors compared to all other survey respondents; and second, there are problems with perceptions about trade (the failure to communicate) and other deeper problems such as rising income inequality and job insecurity.

While a lot of energy and time will be expended on the future of globalization, the critical question is: where are jobs and growth going to come from? Over the past 4 years two-thirds of the region’s growth has come from the services sector, compared to 28 percent from the manufacturing sector. At an average of 57 percent of total output, the services sector in the region’s emerging economies is smaller compared to 80 percent of total output in more advanced economies. Moreover, the way in which services are being delivered is changing – 70 percent of respondents to PECC’s survey thought that digital trade, e-commerce, and the internet economy would be very or extremely important to the future growth of their economies.

While tariffs and border taxes have come down from an average of 17 percent to less than 6 percent, many of the barriers that remain are regulatory in nature. Two-thirds of respondents to PECC’s survey selected transparency, multiple layers of authority, and predictability of regulations as serious or very serious impediments to services trade. These issues are not easily dealt with in the context of trade negotiations – for the most part they are not designed with foreign trade in mind, but are put in place to protect other concerns such as consumer safety. A forward-looking trade agenda needs to find ways to reduce the burden on businesses to allow them to grow – creating jobs and lowering prices.

The Asia-Pacific is undergoing a period of historic change and its trajectory, now more than ever, is unclear. Given the large populations and rising incomes, it is most likely to remain the center of global growth for decades. While the Asia-Pacific policy community remains committed to freer trade, there are significant differences on the domestic political economy of freer trade. A trade agenda that addresses the concerns of those negatively impacted by trade will be critical to continuing the forward momentum in making free trade more desirable and sustainable.

About the Author

Eduardo Pedrosa is the Secretary General of the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council (PECC). He can be contacted at Eduardo.Pedrosa@PECC.org
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Shock End to TPP from Trump


January 25, 2017

Mr. Trump don’t antagonise the rest of us with new unilateral tariffs and thuggish threats

by Philip Bowring

http://www.asiasentinel.com/econ-business/shock-end-tpp-donald-trump/

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HE Prime Minister Hun Sen and HE President Xi of China–Partnership for Peace and Development

Buy Korea, buy Japanese, buy Taiwanese, buy Australian, buy Singaporean, buy Thai, buy Vietnamese, even buy Chinese. Forget about Apple, McDonalds, Goldman Sachs, Citibank, Ford, Boeing – there’s always an alternative.

That is the message that President Donald Trump has sent around the world and most of all to America’s supposed allies in Asia. The withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the 12-nation omnibus trade pact under development for the past seven years, was expected but the manner in which it was done in Trump’s first full day in office was salt on the wounds for the countries that had done so much themselves to push the idea of this extension of trans-Pacific cooperation.

It was accompanied by more generalised threats of new unilateral tariffs and thuggish threats against US companies which invest abroad for export to the US, with Mexico first in the firing line. Quite how much of this 180-degree reversal of bipartisan US trade and foreign policies will become reality remains a matter for conjecture.

Meanwhile, conspicuous by its absence is a roar of outrage from the US business community in Asia which for years has been pressing for more open trade and always quick to condemn Asian governments for backsliding on trading and investment commitments.

AMCHAMS: explain your silence. Are your business leaders so dominated by Republican loyalists that you now treat as dispensable the values you have been preaching for decades? For the US to have gripes against specific countries or products is one thing. They can be addressed on a case by case basis. But Trump is waving a sword which cuts indiscriminately.

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It may be true that the US originally gave China too easy a ride into its markets and the WTO and got inadequate access in return under the illusion that economic success would make China more liberal and democratic, as well as more open to US products. But that was then. Now crude anti-China measures simply endanger the very global trading system that the US has, mostly to its benefit, wrought over the past 60 years. If the US can treat its TPP friends in that way he has done, one shudders at what he may want to do with China.

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Retaliation is premature but at least must be considered for the not so distant future. Australia, perhaps surprisingly, has made a good start by urging that TPP go ahead anyway without the US. The key now must be to prevent US protectionism from becoming generic. That does not mean no retaliation but that any retaliation is specific. Meanwhile individuals can have their own trade policies, starting with any business named after Trump or which supplied any of the leading figures in his administration.

The US could start by getting away from the fantasy that its economic problems are the fault of its trade deficit. Once the US-owned brand and intellectual property costs, and returns on its investment in overseas manufacture, are factored into the overall trade picture, the deficit shrinks. The official current account deficit is only about 2% of GDP, very much less than countries such as Australia and the UK have been exceeding for decades. Include all the profits of thousands of US-owned companies, held in offshore tax havens and there may well no current account deficit at all.

The delusions about trade are even more marked in the case of China. The domestic value added in China’s exports to the US averages only about 65 percent compared with 85 percent in exports from Japan. In cases of items such as electronics the Chinese component is significantly less due to high value components from Japan and elsewhere. The US would be crazy to assume that labour-intensive, low value products like toys and sneakers, where the China valued-added percentage is highest, have a place in the US goal of reviving manufacturing employment.

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But now that the US electoral system has brought to power someone as detached from reality as Trump, craziness seems set to triumph, at least for a while.

 

Donald Trump could be the best thing that’s happened to China in a long time


January 15, 2017

Donald Trump could be the best thing that’s happened to China in a long time

by Fareed Zakaria*

https://www.washingtonpost.com

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Donald Trump has perhaps attacked no country as consistently as China. During his campaign, he thundered that China was “raping” the United States, “killing” us on trade and artificially depressing its currency to make its goods cheap. Since being elected, he has spoken to the leader of Taiwan and continued the bellicosity toward Beijing. So it was a surprise to me, on a recent trip to Beijing, to find Chinese elites relatively sanguine about Trump. It says something about their view of Trump, but perhaps more about how they see their own country.

“Trump is a negotiator, and the rhetoric is all part of his opening bid,” said a Chinese scholar, who would not agree to be named (as was true of most policymakers and experts I spoke with). “He likes to make deals,” the scholar continued, “and we are good dealmakers as well. There are several agreements we could make on trade.” As one official noted to me, Beijing could simply agree with Trump that it is indeed a “currency manipulator” — although it has actually been trying to prop up the yuan over the past two years. After such an admission, market forces would likely make the currency drop in value, lowering the price of Chinese goods.

Chinese officials point out that they have economic weapons as well. China is a huge market for U.S. goods, and last year the country invested $46 billion in the U.S. economy (according to the Rhodium Group). But the officials’ calm derives from the reality that China is becoming far less dependent on foreign markets for its growth. Ten years ago, exports made up a staggering 37 percent of China’s gross domestic product. Today they make up just 22 percent and are falling.

China has changed

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China has changed. Western brands there are rare, and the country’s own companies now dominate almost every aspect of the huge and growing domestic economy. Few businesses take their cues from U.S. firms anymore. Technology companies are innovating, and many young Chinese boasted to me that their local versions of Google, Amazon and Facebook were better, faster and more sophisticated than the originals. The country has become its own, internally focused universe.

This situation is partly the product of government policy. Jeffrey Immelt , the Chief Executive of General Electric, noted in 2010 that China was becoming hostile to foreign firms. U.S. tech giants have struggled in China because of formal or informal rules against them.

The next stage in China’s strategy is apparently to exploit the leadership vacuum being created by the United States’ retreat on trade. As Trump was promising protectionism and threatening literally to wall off the United States from its southern neighbor, Chinese President Xi Jinping made a trip through Latin America in November, his third in four years. He signed more than 40 deals, Bloomberg reported, and committed billions of dollars of investments in the region.

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Chinese global leadership on trade gaining support from ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand

The centerpiece of China’s strategy takes advantage of Trump’s declaration that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is dead. The trade deal, negotiated between the United States and 11 other countries, lowered barriers to trade and investment, pushing large Asian economies such as Japan and Vietnam in a more open and rule-based direction. Now China has offered up its own version of the pact, one that excludes the United States and favors China’s more mercantilist approach.

Australia, once a key backer of the TPP, has announced that it supports China’s alternative. Other Asian countries will follow suit soon.

At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Peru in November, John Key, who was then New Zealand’s prime minister, put it simply: “[The TPP] was all about the United States showing leadership in the Asia region. . . . We really like the U.S. being in the region. . . . But in the end if the U.S. is not there, that void has to be filled. And it will be filled by China.”

Xi’s speech at the summit was remarkable, sounding more like an address traditionally made by an American President. It praised trade, integration and openness and promised to help ensure that countries don’t close themselves off to global commerce and cooperation.

Next week, Xi will become the first Chinese President to attend the World Economic Forum at Davos, surely aiming to reinforce the message of Chinese global leadership on trade. Meanwhile, Western leaders are forfeiting their traditional roles. Angela Merkel and Justin Trudeau announced last-minute cancellations of their plans to speak at the Swiss summit. Trump has only made sneering references to globalism and globalization, and no senior member of his team currently plans to attend.

Looking beyond Trump’s tweets, Beijing seems to have concluded that his presidency might well prove to be the best thing that’s happened to China in a long time.

*Fareed Zakaria writes a foreign affairs column for The Post. He is also the host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS and a contributing editor for The Atlantic. Follow @FareedZakaria

2016–The Harbinger of Troubled and Uncertain Times in 2017


December 20, 2016

2016–The Harbinger of Troubled and Uncertain Times in 2017

by Martin Khor@www.thestar.com.my

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‘It Is Our Soul’: The Destruction of Aleppo, Syria’s Oldest City : Information Clearing House: ICH
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The year 2016 will be remembered for the West ending its romance with globalisation, and its impact on the rest of the world.

JUST a few days before Christmas, it is time again to look back on the year that is about to pass. What a strange year it has been, and not one we can  truly celebrate!

The top event was Donald Trump’s unexpected victory. It became the biggest sign that the basic framework and values underpinning Western societies since the Second World War have undergone a seismic change.

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The established order represented by Hillary Clinton was resoundingly defeated by the tumultuous wave Trump generated with his promise to stop the United States from pandering to other countries so that it could become “great again”.

Early in the year came the Brexit vote shock, taking Britain out of the European Union. It was the initial signal that the liberal order created by the West is now being quite effectively challenged by their own masses.

Openness to immigrants and foreigners is now opposed by citizens in Europe and the US who see them as threats to jobs, national culture and security rather than beneficial additions to the economy and society.

The long-held thesis that openness to trade and foreign investments is best for the economy and underpins political stability is crumbling under the weight of a sceptical public that blames job losses and the shift of industries abroad on ultra-liberal trade and investment agreements and policies.

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Thus, 2016 which started with mega trade agreements completed (Trans-Pacific Partnership) or in the pipeline (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the US and Europe) ended with both being dumped by the President Elect, a stunning reversal of the decades-old US position advocating the benefits of the open economy.

2016 will be remembered as the year when the romance in the West with “globalisation” was killed by a public disillusioned and outraged by the inequalities of an economic system tilted in favour of a rich minority, while a sizeable majority feel marginalised and discarded.

In Asia, the dismantling of the globalisation ideal in the Western world was greeted with a mixture of regret, alarm and a sense of opportunity.

Many in this region believe that trade and investment have served several of their countries well. There is fear that the anti-globalisation rebellion in the West will lead to a rapid rise of protectionism that will hit the exports and industries of Asia.

As Trump announced he would pull the US out of the TPP, China stepped into the vacuum vacated by the US and pledged to be among the torchbearers of trade liberalisation in the Asia-Pacific region and possibly the world.

The change of direction in the US and to some extent Europe poses an imminent threat to Asian exports, investors and economic growth. But it is also an opportunity for Asian countries to review their development strategies, rely more on themselves and the region, and take on a more active leadership role.

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China made use of 2016 to prepare for this, with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank taking off and the immense Belt and Road Initiative gathering steam. Many companies and governments are now latching on to the latter as the most promising source of future growth.

The closing months of 2016 also saw a surprising and remarkable shift in position by the Philippines (and Malaysia too for a different set of reasons), whose new President took big steps to reconcile with China over conflicting claims in the South China Sea, thus defusing the situation – at least for now.

Unfortunately, the year also saw heart-rending reports on the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar, and the deaths of thousands of Syrians including those who perished or were injured in the end-game in Aleppo.

On the environmental front, it is likely 2016 will be the hottest year on record, overtaking 2015. This makes the coming into force in October of the Paris Agreement on climate change all the more meaningful.

But there are two big problems. First, the pledges in the agreement are grossly insufficient to meet the level of emissions cuts needed to keep the world safe from global warming, and there is also insufficient financing to support the developing countries’ climate actions, whether on mitigation or adaptation.

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And second, there is a big question mark on the future of the Paris agreement as Trump had vowed to take the US out of it.

The biggest effect of 2016 could be that a climate skeptic was elected US President.In the area of health, the dangers of antibiotic resistance went up on the global agenda with a declaration and day-long event involving political leaders at the United Nations in September.

There was growing evidence and stark warnings in 2016 that we are entering a post-antibiotic era where medicines will no longer work and millions will die from infection and ailments that could once be easily treated by antibiotics.

The world will also be closing in a mood of great economic uncertainty. In 2016 the world economy overall didn’t do well but also not too badly, with growth rates projected at 2.4 to 3%.

But for developing economies like Malaysia, the year ended with worries that the high capital inflows of recent years are reversing as money flows back to the US. The first in an expected series of interest rate increases came last week.

All in all, there was not much to rejoice about in 2016, and worse still it built the foundation for more difficulties to come in 2017.

So we should enjoy the Christmas/New Year season while we can. Merry Christmas to all readers!

Martin Khor (director@southcentre.org) is executive director of the South Centre.

TPP: Who Needs Uncle Sam?


December 12, 2016

TPP: Who Needs Uncle Sam?

By Todd Crowell@www.asiasentinel.com

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TPP in shambles–The End of Pivot to Asia under Trump

Can the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) survive without the United States?  That is what Asia is pondering with the election of Donald Trump, who has proclaimed he will pull out of the 12-member pact during his first days in office.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has already said that the trade deal “has no meaning” without the US. Yet he continues to push parliament to ratify the agreement, which a special committee of the lower house of parliament did in early November.

The full lower house has until November 30 to finalize the deal before the current session ends. Abe has long maintained that being in the TPP was an essential element in his economic revitalization plan known as “Abenomics.”  Without it, China appears the big winner in terms of extending its regional hegemony and Japan, without it, is going to be one of the losers in its campaign to maintain its own regional influence.

Asia basing

Regional leaders are used to a little Asia-bashing during American presidential elections in which both party candidates take strong positions, which they invariably change after the votes have been counted. This year will be different. President-elect Trump recently stated in no uncertain terms that he will pull the US out of the deal just as soon as he takes office.

Laying out his priorities for his first days on the job, Trump said last week: “On trade I’m going to issue a notification of intent to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a potential disaster for our country.”

He did leave open the possibility of more trade negotiations in a future without TPP. “We will negotiate fair bilateral trade deals.” One of them might be a free trade agreement with Japan, something the two countries have lacked for years.

Hopes have faded that the US Congress would ratify the TPP agreement during the lame duck session this winter, the period between the election November 8 and the day the new Congress is seated and the new president inaugurated in January, 2017.

It was thought that this small window of opportunity would allow members to vote more freely, as many of them are retiring or were defeated, whereas President Barack Obama, a TPP advocate, is still in office until January 20. However Republican leaders have nixed that idea.

A TPP minus the US?

For the pact to continue, the remaining 11 partners would have to change the rules that state it won’t go into effect until and unless at least six nations representing 85 percent of the pact’s total GDP.  As the United States accounts for about 60 percent of the pact’s total GDP and Japan another 20 percent, it is plain that America’s withdrawal from the partnership would effectively scuttle the deal.

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Malaysian Prime Minister runs to China to save his own political skin

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak has said that effectively the deal in its present guise cannot come into force without the US. But he was apparently referring to the requirements clause rather than any merits of the deal.

“Malaysia and the 10 other partners can carry on without the U.S provided the requirement clause is amended,” said Ong Ka Chuan, Deputy Minister for International Trade and Industry.

It should be recalled that the TPP started out as merely an agreement between four Asia-Pacific countries, Singapore, Brunei, New Zealand and Chile. It took on its larger form only after the US agreed to take part, in part to head off China forming its own bloc.

New Zealand role

One of the original partners, New Zealand, has emerged as probably the strongest supporter of the go-it-alone option. Prime Minister John Key at the APEC meeting in Lima, Peru last week, said his government had done some modeling of the potential benefits for his country of a TPP without the US.  In such a case, he said, New Zealand would retain about two-thirds of the projected benefits, worth approximately US$2.7 billion. Based on his soundings, he believed “they’d rather go it alone than not get there at all.” New Zealand was the first and so far only partner to ratify the agreement.

But while the political climate in both the European Union and post-Trump US is that protectionism is on the rise, in Lima last week the leaders of APEC argued that open markets must be maintained and action should be taken build an open trade region among the Asian Pacific economies.

Still, while APEC is arguing for open markets, it probably won’t be through TPP. Other Asian partners seem resigned to the pact’s demise and are turning to other options. Hanoi announced that it will shelve ratification for the time being due to the election of Trump. “There are not sufficient conditions for Vietnam to submit a proposal for ratification [to parliament], “ said Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

Phuc said this with some regret since he believed that the TPP would be a good deal for Vietnam, Hanoi is already a member of other free trade agreements (FTA) and will join more in the future to help spur economic growth.

Despite trade advantages from the partnership, Hanoi saw value in its participation as reducing an excessive reliance on China by joining what was perceived to be a pro-US alliance.

RCEP Awaits

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RCEP–The Core of China’s Panda Commercial Diplomacy

Asian countries seeking other options to TPP have a ready-made alternative in the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), an economic framework consisting of 16 nations, including the 10 nations of ASEAN, plus China, India and South Korea – but not the US or Canada.

In some ways, it might be a better alternative for countries such as Vietnam with less-sophisticated economies since RCEP focuses more on tariff reductions and less on such things as labor regulations, intellectual property and other service industry limitations.

But taking part in the TPP would have provided some countries with larger international profile, which was an important motive for countries like Vietnam and Malaysia taking part. The 11 remaining countries in the fold might benefit from some of the trade enhancing agreements, but without the US it won’t be the same.

Malaysia’s Trade Policy post–TPP


December 10, 2016

Malaysia’s Trade Policy post–TPP

by Shankaran Nambiar, Malaysian Institute of Economic Research

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

Malaysia’s trade with the United States has been in decline. But with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement dead in the water, what is next for Malaysia’s trade agenda?

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If there is a flicker of hope for the TPP, it comes from the talks that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had with President-Elect Donald Trump during the former’s November visit to the United States.

But Abe likely won’t be able to change Trump’s mind. At best Trump might take another look at the Agreement. It may not even be legally possible to change the terms already agreed upon by the 12 member partnership.

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Perhaps the other like-minded members of the TPP will agree to go ahead without US participation. But not having the United States as part of the deal will substantially weaken any such agreement that emerges.

What, then, can Malaysia do? One possibility is to rekindle interest in a US–Malaysia free trade agreement (FTA). A bilateral agreement between the United States and Malaysia was previously considered in 2006 but negotiations came to a halt in 2009.

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If the bilateral exercise was tough back then, it would be even more demanding under Trump’s scrutiny. Trump is not likely to appreciate Malaysia’s stance on government procurement, state-owned enterprises and the Bumiputera agenda. All of these policies restrict the entry of US business into the Malaysian business space.

Given that a bilateral FTA with the United States looks unlikely, Malaysia must look elsewhere to promote its trade policy. Two other possibilities are open.

One is to pursue ASEAN’s Regional Comprehensive and Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement with added vigour. Malaysia can extend itself by providing RCEP with the leadership that ASEAN needs. But this depends on whether Prime Minister Najib Razak is up to the task,given his serious political troubles at home. He has some natural advantages, including his good diplomatic relationship with China.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) may be the more difficult entity to handle. Jokowi has little patience for abstractions, wants to see quick results and dislikes endless meetings. ASEAN does not quite fit his  mould. It might be difficult for Najib to convince Jokowi of ASEAN’s usefulness as an institution whose integration will bring better trade and investment benefits to all member states.

If Najib can convince Jokowi, prod China, and get India to soften its negotiating stance, that would do much to accelerate the RCEP process.

RCEP negotiations is not likely to meet the 2016 deadline. The timeline might be pushed further to the end of 2017. But what can Malaysia do if there are tensions that may further delay the completion of RCEP?

The most serious endeavour that Malaysia can initiate is to unilaterally liberalise, avoiding disagreements with other countries’ agendas and not requiring their assistance. And ultimately resources do not have to be wasted on expensive trade negotiations if Malaysia were to undertake domestic reforms without waiting for any external compulsions.

It is absolutely clear Malaysia has to resolve some problems if it to take full advantage of trade in goods and services and investment. If there is a need for a checklist of issues, the TPP comes in handy. And although Malaysia obtained concessions on a number of points, an FTA of a higher standard would be without those waivers.

In the absence of any multilateral liberalisation efforts from the World Trade Organisation and given the TPP’s apparent demise, Malaysia’s best hope is to approach trade from a unilateral perspective. Whether there is the political will to do so is a different question.

Shankaran Nambiar is author of Malaysia in Troubled Times. He is also a Senior Research Fellow at the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research. The views expressed in this article are his own.

A previous version of this article appeared here in the Sun Daily (Malaysia).