Asean leaders slam protectionism at Bangkok summit


Asean leaders slam protectionism at Bangkok summit
Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha and Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

Published: Sun 23 Jun 2019, 6:20 PM

Last updated: Mon 24 Jun 2019, 9:37 AM

Thailand's premier made an impassioned plea against protectionism on Sunday at a meeting of Southeast Asian leaders where the fallout from the US-China tariff war has dominated talks.
Trade topped the agenda in the final day of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Bangkok, as tit-for-tat tariffs between China and the US cast a dark cloud over global growth.
Thailand, which is chairing Asean this year, railed against global protectionism and called for urgency in concluding talks on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) - a China-led trade pact, which once inked will be the world's biggest.
"The winds of protectionism are hurting our multilateral trading system," Thailand's premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha said on Sunday.
"Asean must hold our hands tightly in negotiating... on the RCEP, so it is concluded this year. It will help off-set any impact from the ongoing trade conflict." He said the bloc would carry their trade concerns to a G20 meeting in Japan this week, hoping to "solve this problem as soon as possible".
RCEP is seen as a mechanism for China to draft the rules of Asia-Pacific trade, following a US retreat from the region as it withdrew from another trade pact at the start of President Donald Trump's administration.
But progress on RCEP has stuttered in recent months, with India digging in over fears the cheap Chinese goods could flood its massive consumer markets. Asean leaders often put out an image of unity during the annual summits.
But the forum has been criticised for allowing diplomatic niceties to outweigh concrete action on the sharpest problems facing the region.
Asean leaders also endorsed the "Bangkok Declaration" to combat maritime debris in one of the most polluted regions in the world.
But with only vague promises to "prevent and significantly reduce marine debris" - and no mention of any ban single-use plastics - environmentalists said it falls far short of what's needed.
China does not belong to the Asean bloc, but some of its members are seen to side with Beijing on thorny maritime issues.
A Filipino boat recently sank in the sea after it was rammed by a Chinese ship, though Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte refused to criticise Beijing over the dust-up.
Instead, Duterte planned to "raise the issue of what is the basis of China claiming an entire sea" at the weekend summit, Philippines presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said.

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