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Asia-Pacific must re-think trade-led development, says UN report

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Asia-Pacific exports are on the upswing, but the region must use trade to create jobs and alleviate poverty, according to a new United Nations report.The study, by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), said that exports are forecast to surge by 6.3 per cent next year in the region, whose development is due in large part to trade, but that the economic crisis offers opportunities for new approaches for growth.

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“We cannot assume business as usual,” said Noeleen Heyzer, ESCAP Executive Secretary. “There is a need to make trade work for the poor by linking trade directly to job creation and poverty reduction rather than promote trade for its own sake.”

The crisis has revealed that the region needs to stimulate domestic demand, which in turn must complement, not substitute, exports as a source of growth, she added.

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“We cannot assume business as usual,” said Noeleen Heyzer, ESCAP Executive Secretary

Although intraregional trade can play a key role in curbing poverty, barriers to trade among Asia-Pacific’s developing national are still high, according to Ravi Ratnayake, Director of ESCAP’s Trade and Investment Division.

“The crisis has shown that Asia-Pacific needs to rebalance its sources of growth and stimulate domestic demand. However, domestic demand needs to complement rather than substitute exports as a source of growth,” Dr. Heyzer adds.

Ravi Ratnayake, Director of ESCAP’s Trade and Investment Division, says intraregional trade can play a large role in reducing poverty but barriers to trade among the region’s developing countries remain relatively high. “By simply eliminating all tariffs among each other, the region can reduce the number of people living on less than $1 a day by 43 million.”

Although regional and bilateral trade agreements can be a useful way to reduce those barriers provided they are properly formulated, their number keeps growing and businesses can no longer see the benefits of these pacts, Dr. Ratnayake adds.

“It is time to try to consolidate at least some of these agreements and undo the ‘noodle bowl,’” he says, pointing to the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA), which groups the three Asian economic powerhouses of China, India and the Republic of Korea together with selected other Asian developing countries in one single trade agreement and has the potential to be a force for regional integration. Mongolia recently applied for membership in APTA.

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