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2010年11月15日 (月)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 12
EDITORIAL: Kan's role at APEC forum

As leaders of Pacific Rim countries gather in Yokohama for this year's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, one question is looming over the conference. Will they share as a realistic goal the vision of a huge free trade zone encompassing nations surrounding the Pacific?
The leaders of 21 countries and regions, including the United States, China and Russia, will discuss ways to ensure sustained economic growth in the region during the summit, which starts Saturday.

The APEC summit was created to link economies that account for a combined 40 percent of the world's population and 50 percent of the global economic output.

U.S. President Barack Obama is seeking to secure future growth of the U.S. economy under a trade strategy centering on a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).

This new regional framework for trade liberalization is also important for Japan, which depends on trade for its economic well-being. Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who chairs the APEC summit in Yokohama, should carry out his responsibility to push this idea.

APEC was launched in 1989 under the initiative of Japan and Australia to build a new framework to promote free trade. The two countries were worried about a growing trend toward creating a regional trade bloc in Europe and North America.

APEC provided a strong impetus to the Uruguay round of multilateral trade talks, which had stalled, leading to a successful conclusion to the negotiations.

After that, however, APEC lost steam and made no notable achievement for years. Part of the blame falls on Japan. Fearing a political confrontation at home over the issue of farm trade liberalization, Tokyo has not gone along with the U.S. call for freer trade.

One important goal set by APEC is achieving "free and open trade and investment" by 2010 among its developed economies.

But the reality is far from the ideal, and there is no prospect for a new global agreement after nine years of the Doha round of multilateral trade talks. The dismal outlook has prompted many countries to start separate negotiations with their trade partners, ushering in a new era of bilateral free trade agreements.

These moves have made some contribution to liberalizing trade. But they have also created some problems. Different trade rules set by many bilateral pacts make things more complicated for companies with global operations. This is a situation sometimes referred to as a "spaghetti bowl phenomenon."

Against this backdrop, the APEC summit in Yokohama offers a good opportunity for Pacific Rim leaders to acknowledge the importance of a multilateral trade pact.

There are encouraging signs that the upcoming discussion will be lively. The United States has shown enthusiasm to hold talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a framework that currently involves nine countries and would eliminate tariffs and trade barriers, stimulating fresh debate. Japan has hastily decided to consider its participation in the talks. China has also shown interest.

If Tokyo joins, the TPP would form a vast free trade zone including both the United States and Japan.

Then, the FTAAP would no longer be a simple vision. It would evolve into the next goal. That would also raise hope for a revival of the moribund Doha round.

With the world economy in a bind, it is all the more important now to expand free trade instead of limiting the scope of trade with protectionist measures.

This is a very important lesson from the Great Depression 80 years ago and the subsequent world war.

The outcome of APEC's efforts to establish a regional free trade zone goes a long way toward determining whether the lesson will be put into good use. As chairman of the Yokohama gathering, Kan has a big role to play.


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