The US Under Trump and APEC
Last year, world leaders met in Da Nang, Vietnam for the annual Asia Pacific Economic Summit. The three-day conference consisted of meetings between leaders from twenty-one of the world’s most important economies. Founded in 1989, APEC serves as a platform for business facilitation and an opportunity for international members to devote attention to the growing economies of the Asia Pacific. With observers including the Southeast Association of Asian Nations and the World Trade Organization, the APEC summit is an integral meeting for establishing trade guidelines in the region that can reverberate internationally. This meeting of world leaders gave President Donald Trump the platform to reaffirm his commitment to the region’s economic success: which he ultimately chose not to. Organizations like APEC function only under the understanding that members are devoted to international economic success, and President Trump did nothing to assure members of his commitment.
Since his inauguration, President Trump has exited regional trade agreements at an alarming rate. After leaving the Trans-Pacific Partnership days after his election, he was quick to reassure media the deal would save American workers from having to compete with lower wage countries. At APEC in November, Trump seemed to indiscriminately criticize APEC members for their apparent misuse of partnership agreements. In the middle of his remarks, the President took time to acknowledge that the United States “can no longer tolerate these chronic trade abuses, and we will not tolerate them.” He also underscored his preferred economic strategy: bilateral trade agreements as opposed to “large agreements that tie our hands, surrender our sovereignty, and make meaningful enforcement practically impossible.” Trump also disparaged the World Trade Organization for “product dumping, subsidized goods, currency manipulation, and predatory industrial policies.”
With his inflammatory remarks, Trump has set a new precedent for United States economic policy. A shift from regionally focused, targeted investment to specialized agreements on a case-by-case basis will ultimately, even if implemented perfectly, lead to an increasingly complicated web of rules and regulations. Promising these bilateral agreements to interested nations is an additionally bold claim for Trump, who has left Ambassador positions in Australia, South Korea, and Singapore vacant: all members of APEC.