APEC: the hope of the side

Whether it be China-US trade tensions, recovery from the unfolding Wuhan coronavirus crisis or countering populist insularity, free trade and cooperation are more important than ever for the Asia region’s prosperity.

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It is 30 years since the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum was established under the Hawke Labor government. Craig Emerson was a key adviser of Bob Hawke’s – and indeed was master of ceremonies at the former prime minister’s state funeral - before becoming a government minister for trade, among other roles.

“If you got rules that can't be enforced of all. They're not really rules, are they?”

He has just taken on the position of Director of the Australian APEC Study Centre at RMIT University.

Speaking with bluenotes contributing editor Tony Walker on podcast, Emerson conceded APEC had no formal role yet it was “the hope of the side” for economic prosperity and indeed better social cohesion.

“I see APEC as the hope of the side in terms of those of us who believe in a global rules-based trading system and the gains from trade. The WTO (World Trade Organisation) is in real trouble,” he concedes, “and the WTO does represent the global rules based system.”


Undermining that global system most significantly, in Emerson’s view, has been a willingness of nations to simply pull out of long established, even if not perfect, systems.

“The United States is refusing to renew the appointments or create new appointments of the judges (for the WTO),” he says. “They're supposed to be seven of those. There's only three left. As of the 10th of December, one left. So that's it. No more effective dispute settlement procedures. If you got rules that can't be enforced of all. They're not really rules, are they?”

APEC though is the hope, not the answer: “We work with government and with the private sector to develop new ideas for the future of APEC,” Emerson says of the RMIT centre.

“But just as importantly, to work in areas such as capacity building. You say APEC is a co-operative arrangement, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation. So it's not so much a negotiating forum for trade deals but it’s there to help other countries develop their capacity in whatever area – that might be in infrastructure, the digital economy, regulation and so on.”

Emerson also spoke about Australia’s role as an “honest broker, not a powerbroker” and China’s developing nation status, among other trade quandaries.

Listen to the full podcast above.

Tony Walker is a bluenotes contributor, former Financial Times correspondent in China and former Australian Financial Review political editor.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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