The Leaders of six of the world’s ten biggest economies have reaffirmed their support for free trade at two high-level meetings held in Asia recently. The countries concerned are Brazil, China, India, Japan, Russia and the UK. In terms of gross domestic product (GDP) measured in purchasing power parity terms, according to International Monetary Fund data and projections for this year, China is the world’s number one economy (the US is number two), India is number three, Japan number four, Russia number six, Brazil number seven and the UK number nine. (In terms of nominal – dollar exchange rate – GDP, China is second, Japan third, the UK fifth, India sixth, and Brazil eighth, while Russia is not in the top ten.)
The first set of meetings was between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and UK Prime Minister Theresa May in Japan over the three-day period August 30 to September 1, focused on defence and security cooperation and trade and investment. The result was three joint statements or declarations: the ‘Japan-UK Joint Vision Statement’, the ‘Japan-UK Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation’ and the ‘Japan-UK Joint Declaration on Prosperity Cooperation’, all signed by both leaders.
The Japan-UK Joint Vision Statement affirms: “Japan and the UK are among the strongest global champions of free trade. It is more important now than ever [before] that we work together to promote rules-based free and fair trade for the benefit of our own people and economies, and in support of global prosperity.”
In its preamble, the Japan- UK Joint Declaration on Prosperity Cooperation repeats this statement almost verbatim. Its paragraph 3(c) is entitled ‘Championing global free trade through multilateral forums’ (emphasis in the original). The two countries committed themselves to working jointly to advance “plurilateral agreements” such as the Environmental Goods Agreement and the Trade in Services Agreement. “Both sides recognise the importance of ambitious regional trade deals as steps towards eliminating global barriers to commerce.”
“Japan is also a natural partner for the UK on the [economic front],” noted May in a statement to the media in Tokyo, “in building a rules-based international system, and encouraging WTO (World Trade Organisation) reform to ensure a global economy that works for everyone . . . . we will set up a new joint working group to examine how we can unblock [the] remaining barriers to trade and take steps to build the closest, freest trading relationship between the UK and Japan after Brexit (Britain exiting the European Union).”
The second meeting was the IX Summit of the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) alignment, held in the coastal port city of Xiamen, in south-east China. This was attended by Brazilian President Michel Temer, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma. It took place from September 3 to 5 and saw the issuing of the ‘Xiamen Declaration’. In its preamble, the declaration states that the five countries have “embraced openness and inclusiveness, dedicated to forging an open world economy”.
The declaration has a dedicated section, comprising six paragraphs, on the global economy. “We emphasise the importance of an open and inclusive world economy enabling all countries and peoples to share in the benefits of globalisation,” it affirms in paragraph 32. “We remain firmly committed to a rules-based, transparent, nondiscriminatory, open and inclusive multilateral trading system as embodied in the WTO. We reaffirm our commitments to ensure full implementation and enforcement of existing WTO rules and are determined to work together to further strengthen the WTO. … We will continue to firmly oppose protectionism. We recommit to our existing pledge for both standstill and rollback of protectionist measures and we call upon other countries to join us in that commitment.”
The Xiamen Declaration also states: “We resolve to foster a global economic governance architecture that is more effective and reflective of [the] current global economic landscape, increasing the voice and representation of emerging markets and developing economies . . . . We emphasise the importance of an open and resilient financial system to sustainable growth and development, and agree to better leverage the benefits of capital flows and manage the risks stemming from excessive cross-border capital flows and fluctuation[s].”