Press Release

Make free trade work for sustainable development in Asia – IGES analysis

Issued by IGES Headquarters
27 July 2015

Hayama, Japan (27 July 2015) – New analysis from the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies finds Asia's environment and people can benefit from freer trade and market liberalisation, but only if sustainability is placed at the centre of the region's integration efforts.

According to the new IGES white paper, “Greening Integration in Asia,” many opportunities exist for governments in Asia-Pacific to work together to ensure greater environmental sustainability and social protection, despite increasing competition among countries to attract investors' money.

“Regional integration is stepping up in Asia,” said Dr. Magnus Bengtsson, Principal Policy Researcher at IGES and one of the paper's lead authors. “The question now is how politicians can make integration work for their constituents – and, importantly, how they can resist the urge for a harmful race to the bottom.”

Far-reaching trade pacts – such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership – are being negotiated, which will include some of the world's biggest economies, as well as Southeast Asian nations and other countries. The “mega-regional” TPP – with 12 countries, including Japan and the United States, participating – accounts for nearly 40 percent of global GDP and about one-third of all world trade.

“Trade and investment liberalisation lies at the heart of Asia's regional integration efforts,” explained Dr. Bengtsson. “However, Asia will shoot itself in the foot if it continues pursuing business-as-usual trade and growth at all costs.”

Unfettered trade and increasing competition to attract investment capital has made it difficult for many developing countries in Asia to protect their environment, as well as the health of their labour force. The Asia-Pacific region has since emerged as the highest consumer of natural resources in the world and is currently responsible for some 45% of global carbon dioxide emissions, according to the IGES white paper.

Dr. Satoshi Kojima, Principal Policy Researcher at IGES, said that governments in Asia need to know that stricter environmental and social policies do not weaken their competitive edge nor do they drive away jobs and businesses. He is also one of the paper's lead authors.

“That belief is unfounded and can have a very chilling effect on policymaking,” Dr. Kojima added.

“Instead politicians need to realise that there is a huge potential for green jobs and for trade in sustainable products,” he said. “But this will only be possible if Asia's governments can seize the opportunities between economic integration and environmental and social betterment, and truly place sustainability at the core of their work.”

The IGES white paper outlines steps policymakers can take to incorporate sustainability into future free trade agreements, including making sustainability impact assessments mandatory and simplifying trade in environmental goods, such as solar panels and waste water purifying equipment.

Other recommendations include learning from the European Union experience and strengthening Asia's own regional institutions, particularly ASEAN, to play a more proactive, supranational role to spur stronger environmental protection and meaningful social equity among member states.

The full IGES white paper – which also covers topics such as forestry and timber trade, air pollution standards, and climate-smart technology transfer – is available for download for free via this link: http://www.iges.or.jp/en/pmo/wp5.html

The new IGES white paper will be launched at the 2015 International Forum for Sustainable Asia and the Pacific in Yokohama, Japan on 29 July. For more information on the Forum, visit: http://www.iges.or.jp/isap/2015/en/

IGES is a non-profit, research institute headquartered in Hayama, Japan with offices in Kansai, Kitakyushu and Tokyo, as well as in Bangkok, Thailand and Beijing, China. Information on IGES research, networks and events are available on the IGES website: http://www.iges.or.jp/en/

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