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Protectionism Putting Asia’s Development in Jeopardy

Protectionism Putting Asia’s Development in JeopardyProtectionism Putting Asia’s Development in Jeopardy

Asian countries have voiced concern about the potentially devastating impact of a US-China trade war, with ministers calling for the acceleration of talks for a gigantic Beijing-backed free-trade deal that excludes the United States.

Fear that a simmering trade spat between the world’s top two economies could spiral into a full-blown trade war--with painful consequences for China’s neighbors—was among topics dominating discussion at a regional summit in Singapore on Saturday, AFP reported.

Tit-for-tat tariffs have fueled months of tensions that were notched up Friday as Beijing threatened to impose levies on $60 billion of American goods.

The prospect of a trade war is a “real threat” to Asian countries, Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah told reporters Saturday on the sidelines of the summit. “The threat is making many countries very concerned and... is becoming more complex,” he said.

Other top Asian diplomats at Saturday’s forum, hosted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, spoke out against protectionism, warning that it places the region’s development in jeopardy.

“Rising anti-globalization and trade protectionism among major countries is fueling tensions and threatening our aspirations for sustained economic growth,” said South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha.

Countries in the region must “explore creative ways to further deepen and broaden our cooperation,” in the face of such challenges, she said.

Some ministers have called for the early conclusion of talks for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a 16-nation pact poised to become the world’s largest free-trade agreement, covering about half the global population.

The planned RCEP deal would group the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations plus China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

But it would not include the United States, which had been leading another regional trade pact—the Trans-Pacific Partnership—until US President Donald Trump abruptly abandoned it last year.

RCEP also aims to cut tariffs but has far less regulatory standards attached than TPP.

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said he hoped the RCEP pact would be complete by the end of the year, while Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan urged countries facing “headwinds against free trade” to rally together.

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