Source: China Daily Published: 2018-1-25
Just as the US throws up new barriers to cross-border commerce, its largest trading partner China is redoubling its efforts to seal free-trade agreements.
From deals with blocs including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to bilaterals with tiny countries like Maldives, China`s FTAs already cover 21 countries. That compares with the 20 countries covered by US agreements. More than a dozen additional pacts are being negotiated or studied, according to China`s Ministry of Commerce.
While President Donald Trump this week imposed tariffs on solar panels and washing machines, underscoring his America first outlook, China is hoping for a "bumper year" for new trade deals, according to the Commerce Ministry.
China`s FTA approach is also tied to broader goals such as the Belt and Road Initiative to build new trade and infrastructure links across Eurasia, said He Weiwen, deputy director of the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing and a former Commerce Ministry official.
"That would offer some help for China to counter the shockwave from trade frictions with the US, but that`s not the purpose," He said. "China wants to be more open, and 2018 is important as it marks the 40th anniversary of the historic reform and opening-up."
Meanwhile, 11 nations are planning to save the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trump abandoned. That may spur China, which isn`t part of that deal, to pursue its own agreements such as the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which potentially will bind China to India as well as to diverse partners from Australia to Cambodia.
"As the US is retreating from economic engagement in Asia, the rest of Asia is moving forward aggressively to conclude deals among themselves," Wendy Cutler, a former US trade negotiator who`s now vice president at the Asia Society Policy Institute in Washington, said Wednesday in a Bloomberg Television interview from Seoul.
Such progress could help fortify Beijing`s ambitions to put itself at the heart of globalization -- outlined in President Xi Jinping`s speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos a year ago -- particularly if Trump follows his dropping the Trans Pacific Partnership with dismantling the North American Free Trade Agreement. Nafta talks are continuing this week.
He Weiwen is a senior fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.