WHY does the sun rise in the east and set in the west? Perhaps, it’s because the global economy spins towards the east. Already we know that the Sun, the Moon, the planets and the stars all rise in the east and set in the west. As major economies have long tied their economic fortunes to the east, many more – especially emerging markets – are increasingly turning east where the sun rises, giving their backs to the west.
Since 2009, U.S strategic geopolitical and economic partnerships have generally expanded into the growing Asian-Pacific region, as they did from 2001 to 2008. Recognizing that Asia is very much on the move, President Obama’s pivot and rebalance to the region is based on the understanding that Asia is already a major economic force and a driver of global growth.
As a major destination for international investment, $5.3 trillion of global trade passes through ASEAN’s waterways each year. No wonder there have been a wave of initiatives to engage the region including the G-20, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the strategic partnership with India, the Pacific Command Force, etc.
Foreign and economic policymakers would be misguided if they ignored a region with a gigantic market of close to 5 billion people (60 percent of the world population), in need of just about everything – and by far the largest continental economy by GDP PPP in the world, combined with a wealth of natural resources and an entrepreneurial class with a voracious appetite for trade and investment opportunities in the wider world.
President-elect Trump’s pledge to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal on his first day in the White House will engender the regionalization of these economies – resulting in the U.S losing economic and political leverage in the region, and placing U.S firms at a great disadvantage.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects that emerging and developing Asia will grow faster than any other region in the world, as it has been growing consistently for nearly a decade. By 2030, it is expected that Asia will be home to over three billion middle-class consumers, who will account for over 40 percent of global middle-class consumption. No wonder the region is being called “the new frontier” with some of the most exciting economic prospects globally.
Meanwhile, both the U.S and Europe have had to grudgingly admit that the dominant issues of the 21st century will be decided in that region. Hence, the Asia-Pacific’s economic gravity should not be taken lightly – and Saint Lucia together with the other OECS territories must pursue a more vigorous economic policy which reorients significant elements of their foreign policy towards the Asia-Pacific region – in a quest to improve, strengthen and develop economic relations and forge business and trade networks.
Foreign relations are much more than diplomacy – and the success of foreign policy is measured by its economic impact. Forget the nomenclature of what conventional foreign policy is supposed to be – economic opportunity should be the soul of foreign policy. However, to attain the economic goals of foreign policy, we’ll need to specify the objectives that serve our interests and develop a growth strategy that informs our foreign policy decisions. With that in mind, the Asia-Pacific region should drive our foreign policy.
I have no doubt that Taiwan has a strategy to guide its dealings with our country just as China has a strategy to drive its engagement in the Caribbean. But do we have a focussed strategy which underpins our relations with Taiwan? Are we working to develop aviation and commercial ties with Taiwan and other east-asian nations? The establishment of an embassy in Taiwan recently is a progressive and portentous move that represents a strategic diversification in our foreign policy relations.
There are windows of opportunity in Asia, but they will be opened and closed quickly if we don’t act. Moreover, our local chamber of commerce should seek more international alliances in that region. Perhaps an idea would be to seek the assistance of the local Taiwanese and Japanese ambassadors in establishing an Asian-OECS chamber of commerce. Furthermore, educational and scientific exchange programmes are vital for the development of cultural ties which could later be strengthened into business and economic relations. The Taiwan Scholarship Programme which provides opportunities to young Saint Lucians to study in Taiwan for Bachelor, Master and PhD degrees is an idea that’s worth its weight in gold. As several European nations have discovered, cultural connectivity is key to opening future trade and economic corridors.
Not surprising, every country wants to have better relations with China and the rest of Asia. The White House under Obama has indicated that economics is at the heart of American engagement in the Asia-Pacific, noting that nearly half of the world’s population resides there, making its development “vital to American economic and strategic interests”.
According to Forbes Business, the Israelis are also moving in quickly on the growth opportunities in Asia: “When we think of Israel, we usually think of the Middle East (its neighbourhood), North America (its close ally the United States) and Europe (the long history of Ashkenazi Jews). Rarely do we think about Israel and Asia, even less about Asia as Israel’s new frontier… Yet, last year Israel called 2014 “the year of Asia in Israel.” The Israeli government sponsored an Asian Science Camp attracting over 220 Asian students to join nearly 40 Israeli students for a week long programme of lectures by world class Israeli researchers.”
The national interest of our country should boil down to trade benefits and economic advantages, as foreign trade can be a powerful tool used in alleviating unemployment and boosting development. Our long-term economic recovery at home can be bolstered by foreign direct investment (FDI) from the Asian pivot as well as the ability of local manufacturing firms to tap into the vast and growing consumer base of Asia. Given the absence in the United States and Europe of any signs of qualitative growth, the Asian region offers new opportunities for political rapprochement, economic cooperation and coordination of interests. The Caribbean region shouldn’t only be islands in the sun; they should also rise with the sun.
For comments, write to Clementsoulage@hotmail.de – Clement Wulf-Soulage is a Management Economist, Published Author and Former University Lecturer.