Bilateral FTAs can be Beijing’s opportunity in new era of multipolar trade world

By Hu Weijia Source:Global Times Published: 2018/10/18 22:13:40

US trade policy is at a crossroads as the Trump administration shifts its focus to advancing bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs). This can be a good chance for Beijing to foster a high-standard global free trade network, and China must seize this opportunity.

US President Donald Trump is not a big supporter of multilateral FTAs. In the absence of a breakthrough in multilateral negotiations, more economies have pressed ahead with bilateral FTAs. The European Commission recently submitted for approval an FTA with Vietnam, adding to evidence that bilateral negotiations are the way forward for countries to advance free trade.

China firmly upholds the multilateral trading system, but now it needs to seize opportunities for FTA talks and bring its advantages to the table. The US consumer market is one of the most robust in the world, so Washington has the economic heft to force its partners to renegotiate FTAs and include provisions that benefit its interests in future bilateral deals.

With "America First" as its guiding principle, the Trump administration is pressing US trade partners to pay a higher price to enjoy free access to the US market. That means consumer market is now a more valuable chip at the negotiating table for bilateral FTA talks.

This provides an opportunity for China, where 40 years of economic development have resulted in a growing middle class and burgeoning consumer market. Many countries want China to further open its markets so they can tap the potential of the Chinese economy. With its huge consumer market, China is expected to become a popular partner in future bilateral free trade talks.

China must embrace the trend by advancing bilateral talks with its partners and driving up consumption. As China attempts to restructure its economy toward a more consumption-driven model, spending growth is likely to help the country gain more advantages in writing global trade rules.

We're in a new era where bilateral FTA talks serve as the driving force for advancing free trade. It's possible that bilateral FTAs will help major economies, such as the US, EU and China, foster their own free trade networks. This will promote a multipolar world in the trade arena and prevent unipolar US hegemony.

In this way, the US' influence is likely to be diluted. China should seize this opportunity to advance free trade and pursue greater global recognition of its economy.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.


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