As Bloomberg reported yesterday, rising trade tensions have made it more imperative than ever that companies remain engaged in crafting sensible trade and regulatory policies. Getting that job done, however, is unusually challenging in Asia. While there are many excellent organizations at different levels in the region—within some individual countries, across ASEAN and within APEC—what has been lacking is an institutional framework to collectively gather business input from Asia as a whole. Hence the need for a new grouping—the Asia Business Trade Association (ABTA). ABTA is a non-profit society, registered out of Singapore, to unite large and small firms from all across Asia in crafting a collective voice for companies on trade and regulatory issues.
Proving once again that good ideas cannot be killed, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is ready to move into force as soon as next year. Companies had largely given up on the TPP after the withdrawal of the United States. Now firms will need to scramble to figure out how the agreement matters to their business and what steps they should take to maximize the opportunities and minimize the risks arising from the most important trade agreement in decades. What makes the TPP so relevant is the deep, interlocking nature of the commitments. Unlike other free trade agreements (FTAs), the TPP doesn’t simply open up trade in some goods or partially address services or investment. It manages to better reflect the way that firms actually structure business operations today. It will allow companies to more seamlessly move goods, services, and investments between and across TPP member markets. This benefits not just the biggest firms that have always had advantages of scale, but smaller firms that often struggle to sort out complex rules in trade deals.
Since work is likely to continue towards solving the final row of the puzzle later, what matters is locking in progress in cracking most of the solution. Getting the final row done feels very satisfying, but more critical is working out how to get the lion’s share of the rows into place. This is true, even if it turns out that the final rows can’t be slotted into place using the existing directions for solving the puzzle. It will still push forward trade across Asia in ways that have not been tried in the region before and deliver economic benefits to companies and consumers. Getting to the end, however, remains a challenging goal. Solving a “normal” Rubik’s cube with four sides is hard enough. Completing one with 16 sides is testing the patience and negotiating skills of everyone involved.