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ASEAN in Global Trade

22 September 2023

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Tokyo, 22 September 2023 - The Economic Research Institute for ASIAN and South East Asia (ERIA) took part in an annual symposium hosted by the Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI) and the Australian National University (ANU) with the theme An Asian Agenda for Securing the Multilateral Rules-based Economic Order.

Welcome remarks were made by RIETI Chairman and ERIA Senior Research Advisor Professor Shujiro Urata. The keynote speech was given by the Deputy Director-General at the Trade Policy Bureau of Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) Yoshida Yasuhiko.

The panel discussion was chaired by associate professor of Crawford School of Public Policy and Australian National University Dr Shiro Armstrong. Dr Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria, Executive Director of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Secretariat in Singapore, emphasized the importance of 'ASEAN centrality' as outlined in the ASEAN charter. She highlighted the need for ASEAN to be a driving force in its relations with external partners while upholding principles such as sovereignty and unity. She also underscored the region's demographic and economic significance, and stressed the necessity of a unified ASEAN community to wield greater influence in international organizations.

Professor Maki Kunimatsu from Chuo University emphasized the crucial role of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and regional/bilateral free trade agreements in maintaining a rules-based economic order, highlighting four key functions: creating new economic rules, resolving disputes, monitoring regulations, and promoting member cooperation.

Professor Dong Wang of Peking University emphasized China's significant role in global economic growth, surpassing the combined output of the G7 countries. He cited China's per capita GDP growth and its involvement in initiatives such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade bloc. Anh Duong Nguyen, Director of the Department for General Economic Issues and Integration Studies at the Central Institute for Economic Management (CIEM), stressed ASEAN's need to assert its centrality in global affairs, urging dialogue with superpowers on initiatives beyond economics.

ERIA’s Lead Advisor for the Southeast Asia Region Dr Lili Yan Ing, as the final panellist, discussed ASEAN in global trade, mentioning the key factors of the enduring nature of US-China tensions irrespective of political changes, and the rapid digital transformation reshaping global trade. Despite supply chain pressures from these factors, ASEAN countries have performed relatively well, with 5.6% economic growth last year and positive policies such as low debt-to-GDP ratios and fiscal deficits. However, this growth is partly driven by increased exports in commodities rather than value-added goods.

To strengthen global trade, Dr Ing recommended enhancing the multilateral trading system, including climate change and digitalization issues; maintaining open and fair-trade policies; investing in logistics and maritime infrastructure; and embracing digital transformation to optimize supply chains and improve physical and digital infrastructure. These actions are crucial for the region's continued economic success and its role in the evolving global trade landscape.

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