Southeast Asian leaders met in Thailand on Saturday to discuss a breakthrough in the world’s largest trade agreement to help get rid of the numbness that has gripped the global economy since the start of the Sino US tariff war.
The 10 member association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) holds its annual summit in Bangkok, hoping to reach a free trade agreement supported by China, which links half the world’s population with about 40% of trade. The regional comprehensive economic partnership agreement (RCEP), a controversial agreement from India to New Zealand for several years, is now seen as an urgent response to US protectionism.
Trade frictions between China and the United States weigh on the market, and the IMF warned that the dispute could reduce global economic growth to its lowest level in more than a decade.
At the same time, President Trump’s protectionist rhetoric has spooked some ASEAN countries, who fear that their economies may be targeted by trump. Trump has repeatedly warned that further interventions will be taken to protect US companies, and some Asian countries are waiting to see if the US will put them on the “currency manipulator” watch list.
Malaysia’s prime minister, Mahathir Mohammed, warned that ASEAN might fight back on any punitive trade measures, but he avoided specific issues. “We’re going to fight back with each other (in full accordance with Trump’s approach),” he said at a business forum ahead of the summit He called trump “not a very good person.”. “If you fight alone, you will be bullied. We don’t want a trade war, but if they do something bad for us, we have to go back, “he added.
Earlier, Thai Prime Minister palayu echoed the theme of regional cooperation in the RCEP agreement, and Philippine trade minister Ramon Lopez said he hoped to receive “a very positive report on RCEP” after the summit.