US-ASEAN FTA not feasible under Trump

March 2, 2017 at 10:05

US-ASEAN FTA not feasible under Trump

Washington think tank says

Published By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

Even a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with ASEAN, which groups the ten member nations in Southeast Asia, is not going to be possible with the US given the thrust of the new Trump administration for bilateral trade deals instead of multilateral trade arrangement, a Washington D.C.-based think tank said.

Dr. Amy E. Searight, senior advisor Southeast Asia Program Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), categorically said told reporters at the US-ASEAN  Relations: Charting the Next 40 Years at the Diamond Hotel that it would be difficult for bilateral FTA talks to proceed under the Trump administration. Other business groups have pushed for the possibility of a US-ASEAN FTA now that Trump has abandoned the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

“That is going to be difficult for a US-ASEAN FTA because the Trump administration has signaled clearly he is not interested in multilateral FTA and he is only interested in bilateral FTA,” said Searight noting that Trump has initially indicated preference for bilateral FTA with countries like Japan and UK.

Even under the best of circumstance, Searight said, it is still premature to talk about US-ASEAN FTA because the US Congress is not also interested in negotiations, much more ratifying a trade deal. Even the TPP, which sets high level ambitions for a 21st FTA deal, was not good enough for the US Congress. Trump also thumbed down the TPP, which was initiated by his predecessor President Barack Obama.

Searight, however, said that aspirationally a US-ASEAN deal could be something the think tank would like to work towards the TPP.

“It could have been a helpful building block,” he said.

In the meantime, Searight said the APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) should serve the economic agenda. US-ASEAN countries can promote good norms and practices in a shared context under APEC.

Michael S. Klecheski, deputy chief of Mission US Embassy in the Philippines, has reiterated the US government’s commitment to the ASEAN region even as the Trump administration is still in the early stages of its governance yet.

The CSIS also noted the growing economic process of ASEAN, which is now a $2.4-trillion economic area with a population of over 600 million that is young and increasingly well-educated.

The think tank, however, viewed ASEAN as an organization at a crossroads citing strategic rivalries in the Indo-Pacific and tensions over China’s maritime claims and increasing activities in the South China Sea.

“This gives rise to the question of whether the ‘ASEAN Way’ of slow, consensus-driven policy formulation is the best approach to achieve collective Southeast Asian goals of peace and prosperity in the new strategic context,” said Searight in her welcome note.

The conference held in cooperation with local partners – the Albert del Rosario Institute for Strategic and International Studies and the Asia Society Philippines – was an opportunity to examine challenges and opportunities facing ASEAN across economic, security, and transnational issues.

It will focus on formulating practical recommendations to improve ASEAN capacity to tackle these challenges, and to build strong US-ASEAN ties. The conference gathers approximately 40 participants, including many young though leaders, from Southeast Asia, the US and other key countries to exchange views and make recommendations for the US and ASEAN.


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