CAFTA: More Proof US is Losing SE Asia to China

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,,, at 6/10/2010 12:25:00 AM
It is no big secret that the US is making a ham out of its efforts to engage Southeast Asia. While Barack Obama can't even be bothered to get on board Air Force One for a trip to Indonesia [more here], some others are making a move on what was once an American lake--the Pacific. How lame has America become, you ask? For starters, the United States was overtaken by China as Southeast Asia's third largest trading partner after Japan and the EU in either 2008 or 2009 depending on which figures you use.

Worse yet for American trade interests, note that America was already overtaken in the trade volume sweepstakes before the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area came into existence at the start of 2010. With sentiment for trade deals in Congress as good as that towards BP, China will most likely leave America further behind, quixotic "Trans-Pacific Partnership" aside. Below is a table from China's Ministry of Commerce showing how trade volume has Chinese trade has expanded considerably in the first four months of 2010 with ASEAN:

Here are a few preliminary observations:
  • For obvious reasons, Chinese exports are posting a noticeable recovery from 2009. Yet, growth in trade activity over the same time period last year with ASEAN (58.5%) surpasses overall trade growth (42.7%) by a significant margin;
  • Contrary to the earlier scaremongering about how "unfair" Chinese competition would wipe out Southeast nations with similar trade profiles, the PRC is running a fairly sizeable overall deficit with ASEAN through April 2010 ($5.86 B), whereas it ran a small surplus all of last year amounting to $969 million. Also, it is running trade deficits with 6 out of 10 ASEAN nations so far in 2010;
  • Though the charts do not indicate it, China does not discriminate against ASEAN agricultural producers the way Japan given the latter's strong agricultural lobby.
  • Yes, yes, I know that East Timor shouldn't be lumped with ASEAN, but it's only a matter of time before it joins and its current trade with the PRC is minuscule anyway.
What ASEAN's trade with the US, you ask? Well, the US treats Southeast Asia so shabbily that it doesn't even bother to aggregate the region's trade like it does for NAFTA and the EU. How pathetic. Face it: all the Yanks do nowadays is cadge the bejesus out of you. Sammy would rather rattle that cup than gather decent trade statistics: A penny for your thoughts, my dear? No thanks--maybe those activists will have a new line after Obama's serial no-shows: Yanqui stay home.

Anyway, despite this inconvenience, I decided to tally the numbers by hand (see chart). Total US-ASEAN trade in Q1 2010 comes to $54.87B compared to PRC-ASEAN trade worth $87.09B over the same period. As I said, China is surely leaving America in the dust as far as trade activity with Southeast Asia is concerned. Where America loses big in comparison is in trade with Brunei as well as Laos and Myanmar with whom trade is negligible for obvious reasons. Perhaps America is too dazed and confused with its myriad of other woes to care that it is being left far behind.

Just where is America's "first Pacific president"? It appears someone else offered Southeast Asia a better deal (and better intentions), so we took it. And when I say "we" I mean every single member nation. IPE students know what they call those who provide public goods.