Events & News


The Global Trade System: Face of the Future and Implications for EU-ASEAN Trade and Economic Relations

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3 Oct 2013
Ballroom 2, Fullerton Hotel



Trade policy, institutions and governance are regaining greater prominence in the current discourse on the role of trade in the global political economy, and developments that are likely to shape the 21st century trade policy agenda are now emerging with greater force.  Given the importance of trade to the EU and ASEAN in relation to the global economy, the evolving systemic arrangements will certainly affect them individually, as well as their trade and economic relations.

With this in mind, the EU Centre and the EU-ASEAN Enhancing ASEAN FTA Negotiating Capacity Programme held a Global Trade System Roundtable on 3rd October 2013 at the Fullerton Hotel in Singapore with the aim of informing policy makers and business leaders of the challenges facing the trade system as well as the conceptual frameworks with which they can use to analyse current and future problems. The Roundtable, which consisted of three panels incorporating presentations by trade experts, policy makers and academics, attracted close to 70 participants from Southeast Asian trade ministries, policy makers from Singapore’s public service, representatives from the diplomatic community, business and corporate representatives and also policy researchers and academics.

The first session entitled “The global trade system: where are we today?” saw presentations by Dr Robert Teh (Counsellor, Economic Research & Statistics Div, WTO) and Dr Edwini Kessie (Chief Trade Adviser for the Pacific Island Countries). Despite a world characterised by new trade powers, international fragmentation of production, proliferation of regional trade agreements (RTAs) and the recurrence of global economic crises, Dr Teh believes that the WTO is still relevant and that there is a need to make real progress, especially in the area of trade facilitation at the WTO Ministerial Conference in Bali this coming December. Dr Kessie provided an in-depth background on the progress of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) and surmised that the outcome of the upcoming Bali Conference would be crucial for the development of WTO.. Should members agree on the agenda at the conference, they would soldier on to make progress on remaining issues. If the outcome is meagre, he fears that developed countries would push for plurilateral agreements thus making it difficult to revive the Doha Round, and also bringing about questions on the future of WTO.

The next session entitled “Challenges to multilateralism and the global trade regime – the rise of mega-FTAs and alternative trade governance and institutional arrangements”  saw presentations by three speakers on the three mega-FTAs, namely, Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Dr Henry Gao (Associate Professor of Law at Singapore Management University) briefly touched on the history of TPP before noting that the road ahead is tough, as signatories of TPP may have to adopt a two-tier approach where low-income states are granted exceptions, and members would also have to manage the potential entry of China into the TPP. Mr Cesare Onestini (EU Fellow at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy) argued that TTIP should not be seen as a challenger to the multilateral system, but rather, an agreement that would reinforce the global trading system and be a building block for new multilateral deals elsewhere. Lastly, Dr Vo Tri Thanh (Deputy Director, Central Institute for Economic Management, Hanoi) covered the background and motivation behind RCEP and noted that this regional agreement is likely be more significant than TPP for ASEAN and Asia.  Dr Thanh also argued that in order for the RCEP to be implemented effectively, RCEP participating states and ASEAN would need to develop a new governance structure.

Last but not least, the third session entitled “EU and ASEAN in the evolving global trade regime: challenges and responses” touched upon the roles of these regional organisations as they grapple with challenging trade issues of the 21st century. Dr Melanie Milo (Assistant Director of External Economic Relations Division, ASEAN Secretariat) introduced the role of the ASEAN Integration Monitoring Report and its priority to address non-trade barriers, noting that ratification of ASEAN wide agreements into domestic laws as well as increased education on the benefits of the ASEAN Economic Community is needed to boost economic growth within the region. Mr Raffaele Quarto (Trade Counsellor, Delegation of the EU to Singapore) stressed the importance of trade for the EU, especially at a juncture where 90% of the world’s growth will come from outside of Europe. In doing so, he introduced the key elements of the EU’s trade policy – multilateralism, regionalism to overcome problems in WTO and bilateral liberalisation – and argued that trade between the EU and ASEAN could only bode well for increased economic growth and regional integration in Southeast Asia. Lastly, to sound a word of caution on the chain of events leading to greater multilateralism, Mr Jørgen Ørstrøm Møller (Senior Visiting Fellow at ISEAS) stated that the world has not seen a global trading system. He warned that the old system is out of date, and that progress on other areas such as the environment and labour standard would have to be addressed by proponents of a global trade system as they draft future rules. 

You can view some of the pictures from the Roundtable in the gallery below.