Il mito delle FTA

The FTA Fetish / Il feticcio delle FTA (Aree di libero scambio)

Tesi Bernard Gordon, Prof. Scienza della politica, Univ. del New Hampshire:
USA devono spezzare tentativo di costituire area di libero scambio asiatica, rilanciando APEC e multilateralismo WTO, insieme a Jap, Australia e Corea.

  • Il 18 e 19/11 Bush partecipa a vertice ASEAN in Corea,
  • seguirà vertice WTO ad Hong Kong
  • e vertice “ASEAN +3” (Cina, Jap, Corea) + 3 (Australia, N. Zelanda, India) per costituzione Comunità dell’Asia Orientale con obiettivo Area di libero scambio asiatica, da cui USA sarebbero esclusi.
  • Forte tendenza alla costituzione di accordi bilaterali e regionali di libero scambio (FTA),
  • sia da parte di Corea (ha in corso trattative per una ventina di accordi FTA),
  • che di Jap,
    il quale fino al 2000 si era attenuto al principio del multilateralismo
    (WTO) ma ora ha firmato accordo con Singapore e sta trattando con
    Filippine, Tailandia e Corea.
  • Per Corea negli ultimi due anni la Cina è divenuta il primo partner commerciale, superando gli USA sia nell’import che nell’export (grafico).
  • FTA segnano tendenza a costituzione di blocchi regionali i quali, oltre a minare il multilateralismo, sono contrari a interessi USA e alla stabilità mondiale.
  • Progetto
    di blocco commerciale asiatico era stato proposto già 20 anni fa da
    Mahatir (Malaysia), e rintuzzato da USA (J. Baker);
  • ora l’ex vice Segr. di Stato R. Armitage vede nel nuovo progetto l’”inizio di un’erosione” del ruolo USA in Asia, ad opera della Cina.
  • D’altra
    parte sono gli USA, con NAFTA, CAFTA, il progetto FTAA (fortunatamente
    affondato dal Brasile), e una serie di accordi bilaterali, ad aver
    rilanciato il regionalismo.
  • USA
    devono abbandonare il bilateralismo e rilanciare il multilateralismo,
    approfittando in sede APEC di perplessità e ripensamenti in Corea, Jap,

November 17, 2005; Page A16

President Bush goes to Japan and Korea this week he will receive a much
warmer welcome than he did in South America. He will also find a far
greater opportunity to promote both America’s security and his trade
goals. A key reason for the trip is the APEC "summit" in Busan, South Korea,
which he will attend on Nov. 18 and 19, and a key advantage of APEC is
its membership: It includes just about everybody bordering on the
Pacific, not only the "Asian" states but those in the Americas,
Australia and New Zealand.

Even beyond APEC, there are two other East Asia events a few weeks later that make the trip especially timely. One is the WTO "Ministerial" meeting in Hong Kong,
much in the news because it may represent a last-ditch effort to save
world trade’s Doha Round. The other, lesser-known event, is an "East Asia Summit," a meeting in Malaysia from which the U.S. has been carefully excluded, though it will include leaders of all other Asia-Pacific nations.

Though hardly mentioned at all in America’s media, this summit can have profound implications for American trade, politics and security.
Its sponsor is a dramatically enlarged Asean, no longer simply a loose
organization of Southeast Asian nations. By informally adding Japan,
China and Korea, it has morphed instead into "Asean plus three." Now it will expand again to include Australia, New Zealand and India. The resulting "Asean plus six" is expected to establish an "East Asian Community," and its next goal, in which China is playing the leading part, is an East Asian "Free Trade Area" (FTA).

That goal reflects a fetish for FTAs that is very much alive throughout the region, especially among its political leaders. Korea is a perfect example. It is now the world’s 10th largest exporting nation and 10th largest economy, with a more-than $19,000 per capita GDPall
of which owes much to the GATT/WTO global trade format of the past 40
years. But Seoul’s government increasingly has embraced the FTA concept
of bilateral and regional "free trade" agreements
. One is already
in place, several others are being actively explored, and high-level
FTA talks with the U.S. have begun. All together, Korea has nearly 20 such deals on its agenda, and it is also involved in the "East Asian Economic Community" concept highly favored by China and some in Southeast Asia.

At a lower energy level, Japan is also drawn to the FTA idea, though until 1999-2000 it held firmly to the WTO format. But Tokyo has been playing catch-up since then: One agreement with Singapore already has been signed and talks are on with the Philippines, Thailand and Korea for another — though they are on temporary hold after Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s latest Yasukuni shrine visit.

there are countercurrents too, as two visits since May revealed. Korean
and Japanese specialists and officials, who just a few years ago hailed
FTAs as the next big thing, now send up warning signals. In Korea especially, they worry that public opinion has been oversold on FTAs by their political leaders
who have climbed onto a bandwagon from which — despite the economic
and national-security drawbacks of FTAs — it may be too late to jump.

And that is where Mr. Bush’s opportunity lies, because behind the new romanticism of regionalism lie two very real worries. The first is the conviction that proliferating FTAs will surely undermine the multilateral trade framework.
A top Korean official with both GATT and WTO experience agreed, but
hoped nevertheless that "this FTA fetish may run its course in 10 or so
years and we can then return to the multilateral approach."

The second worry is rooted in the deep awareness, among both Japanese and Koreans, of their interlocking histories and present security vulnerabilities.
At an October Seoul conference on "Economic Integration in East Asia"
(in which I participated), Japan’s very senior representative put it
this way: "Japan wishes to strengthen economic relations with East Asia, including China," but quickly added that nothing must damage Japan’s "strong security tie with the U.S." His dilemma was clear: Japan
is committed to Asian economic integration, but "excluding the U.S.
should not reduce the importance of the U.S. role in East Asia."

Likewise with Koreans: Everyone knows that for more than a thousand years their autonomy has been a product of the eternal China-Japan rivalry,
but with China again ascendant and with its rivalry with Japan also
rising, they must question how they would fare in a "community"
dominated by those two. But that also reinforces their dilemma. On the
one hand, everything for the past 50 years has depended on the
U.S., which, until last year, was Korea’s main import supplier; and,
until two years ago, was also its principal export destination.
But as the accompanying chart demonstrates, neither is true today.
That change has been a forceful reminder of the increasingly Asian
economic underpinnings of Korea’s security, and of circumstances 20 years ago.

That’s when an "East Asian Economic Community," excluding the U.S., was first pushed by former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir, and when Secretary of State James Baker warned Tokyo and Seoul against "drawing a line down the Pacific." His warning was repeated in May by the just-retired Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. He described today’s proposals for an East Asian Community as "a thinly veiled way to make the point that the United States is not totally welcomed in Asia. . . . It’s the beginning of an erosion. . . . China is quite willing to be involved in fora that don’t include the United States."

The core difficulty, which Asians brandish to any American who will listen, is that Washington
itself brought on this FTA fetish. In the years since Nafta, the U.S.
has negotiated, signed or ratified almost two dozen agreements,
including the new Cafta, and at least until two weeks ago it continued
to think that the FTAA
("Free Trade Area of the America") would
catch on. Nafta alone didn’t alarm Asians because Canada and Mexico
have a century and more of close U.S. economic ties, but everything
since then has. The catalyst leading Japan and Korea to drop their long-standing WTO-only attachment was U.S. behavior;
as the Tokyo Shimbun recently remarked, "What makes [Japan’s]
government eager to rush to sign FTAs is the rapid progress elsewhere .
. . centered on the U.S."

It’s in that respect that the
nail just put in the FTAA coffin by Brazil can help free the U.S. from
its own FTA fetish, and the opportunity is at the APEC summit
Neither Korea, Japan nor Australia is comfortable with the forthcoming
meeting in Malaysia to establish an "East Asian Community" that
excludes the U.S. In practice Washington cannot be excluded from its
implications, including the concept of economic integration in East
Asia. That idea moves in the direction of what in earlier years was
called a "bloc," and a world of blocs is incompatible not only with American interests but with global stability. Because such a world will and should be strongly opposed by the U.S., what is called for now is a joint Korean-Australian-Japanese-U.S. effort at APEC to kick-start the multilateral format. It could be an unstoppable effort.

Gordon, professor emeritus of political science at the University of
New Hampshire, is the author, most recently, of "America’s Trade
Follies" (Routledge, 2001).

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