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Faheem Rahput, Shutterstock

Faheem Rahput, Shutterstock

Health of the Global Economy? TBD.

24 May 2019

5 minute read

As the world anxiously watches the Great Powers’ tug-of-war unfold, the mood appears to be sombre and its collective hope appears to be low.

In a global climate dominated by severe economic and geopolitical tension, academics from China, the US and Australia forecast that the gloom will continue for many more years.

The academics were discussing various causes, consequences and implications of the ongoing trade war at the China-US Trade War and Economic Conflict Conference. It was hosted by the ANU College of Business and Economics, the ANU Research School of Economics and the American based Peterson Institute of International Economics.

Aside from the economists from Columbia University, Peking University, Chinese University of Hong Kong, and ANU, there were several other senior speakers, such as Kate Hickie from the Reserve Bank of Australia and Meghan Quinn from the department of Treasury.

Through the course of the conference, it was widely established that an underlining economic distress had been systematically spreading in the US for several years. And now with the trade war underway, the solutions to resolve it either appear to be too distant or too meek.

China-US conference

Chad Bown from PIIE discussing the 40 years of
special protection between US and China | Photo: CBE

Beginnning of the end for the WTO?

Several key discussions emerged. Among them was the assault on the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which was extensively reviewed. Academics argued that countries should return to the multilateral rules-based trade regime or else bilateral trade would continue to grow in prominence. Ever since the trade war kicked off between China and the US, the WTO appears to have been belittled as it has been unable to contain the growing economic conflict.

According to Nicholas Lardy, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) and an expert on Chinese economy, in the absence of a powerful WTO more trade frictions are anticipated, especially between China and US who will be negotiating their own deals.

The implications of the trade war without US President Donald Trump was also deliberated. Speakers widely agreed that resolutions could take shape sooner if the President would not be re-elected in 2020. Noting that the negotiating style of the US could significantly improve the trade negotiations post President Trump's “style and tweets”. President Trump is universally believed to have been the catalyst in the current trade war.

China's way forward

The other prominent discussions that emerged were China’s approach towards the trade friction and its proficiency to negotiate with the US. Interpreting China’s approach in the ongoing trade war, Professor Yipping Huang from Peking University said that China saw two key opportunities from this situation. One, to explore “the great scopes of co-operation with other countries” and two, was to “accelerate its domestic policies.”

If President Trump was not re-elected, the US could significantly improve the trade negotiations 

With respect to China’s process of negotiating, Professor Huang along with Dr Shang-Jin Wei, a professor of Finance and Economy at Columbia University, observed that there were a few areas for improvement. Expanding on that gaps, Dr Wei opined that China’s negotiating practice consisted of changing the earlier points in negotiations just before closing the entire negotiations. This he contends could prove to be a deal-breaking characteristic that the US find less trustworthy.

Meanwhile, Australia’s role in the trade war was also scrutinised. Wedged between its major trading partner - China and its prime security ally – the US, Australia’s economic security appears to be constantly hanging in the balance.

“The consensus was that Australia’s capacity to respond in the crisis was limited, however, there was acknowledgement that among the Western countries Australia best understands the Chinese political systems since it economically engages with China at various levels,” said Professor Bob Gregory from the ANU College of Business and Economics.

He further added that the conference was “extremely enriching and transparent” as academics discussed, argued and shared ideas on how the ongoing circumstances could be changed.

“Given the seriousness and severity of the issues, there was utmost civility and no political statements were made,” he added. 

The conference was held in a packed auditorium in the Australian Centre on China in the World at ANU. The audience comprised of over 220 participants, including several policymakers, academics and several international students.

Updated:   11 February 2020 / Responsible Officer:  CBE Communications and Outreach / Page Contact:  College Web Team