The future of trade negotiations

26 June 2018

The potential implications of Donald Trump's "America-first" trade agenda have dominated a panel discussion at the ANU Crawford Leadership Forum.

Dr Shiro Armstrong, Director of the Australia-Japan Research Centre and Fellow with the ANU Crawford School of Public Policy said the response from Australia and other Asia-Pacific nations to the United States trade agenda could have major spill-over effects.

Dr Armstrong explained that so far we've seen world leaders threaten retaliation or do deals with the United States, which involves making decisions that take us outside the system we rely on.

He believes we need to sell trade more effectively here in Australia, and work with countries like China and Japan to "hold the line".

Dr Mari Pangestu, former Indonesian Trade Minister, agreed there needs to be a collective response.

"Doing nothing is not an option but we also have to figure out how to engage with the US," Dr Pangestu said.

Dr Pangestu believes countries involved in important global forums like the APEC Summit need to think about how they can use those forums to engage with the US.

Former Australian Trade Minister Craig Emerson said Australia is "wasting time" trying to get America to see differently and called for the establishment of an informal group called "friends of the World Trade Organization."

"I think the diagnosis is very dire but we can keep this patient alive," said Mr Emerson. "I'd bring in the Pacific Alliance countries - they are genuine free-traders."

Mr Emerson described his experience of travelling to the United States and seeing "mile after mile" of abandoned manufacturing plants.

"What Trump is essentially saying is if we can bludgeon China a bit those manufacturing jobs will come back to the US, but I don't think those jobs are coming back, artificial intelligence will replace those jobs," Mr Emerson said.

In summarising her thoughts, Dr Pangestu said while the benefits of free trade are fairly obvious, we also need to work out how to compensate the "losers", and this calls for a national and regional response.