Protectionism slammed as ASEAN leaders rally to trade pact

24 June, 2019 12:00 AM printer

BANGKOK: 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.

A controversial repatriation plan for the persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority and ongoing disputes over the South China Sea will also be tackled by leaders at the final day of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit, reports AFP.

But trade has topped the agenda at the Bangkok meeting, as tit-for-tat

tariffs between China and the US cast a dark cloud over global growth.

Thailand, which is chairing ASEAN this year, rallied against global protectionism and called for urgency in concluding talks on RCEP — a China-led trade pact, which once inked will be the world’s biggest.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) includes all 10 ASEAN economies, plus India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

“The winds of protectionism are hurting our multilateral trading system,” Thailand’s junta leader-turned-premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha said 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.”

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.

The trade war between the world’s biggest two economies have sent reverberations across the world, said Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.