MANILA • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte yesterday took a swipe at the Trump administration's retreat from a major free trade deal, joining Asian nations at a forum this week in criticising rising protectionism.
Until recently, China and the United States were both pushing sweeping free trade deals that excluded each other. But shortly after taking office in January, US President Donald Trump withdrew his country from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which he described as a "job killer".
The move delivered a hammer blow to the 11 other nations which had spent seven years negotiating what was billed as the world's largest trade deal.
During a speech celebrating Asean's 50th anniversary in Manila, Mr Duterte gave his support to a planned trade pact backed by China known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
"Asean has a bigger stake than any part of the world in standing up against protectionism and securing the rules of the game in the international trade," he told delegates.
RCEP, he said, "will provide further impetus to our efforts", adding that he hoped negotiations on the Asean-led deal would "conclude swiftly".
He then added a jab over TPP's collapse. "(I'm) reminded that the Trans-Pacific - it was a dream - is no longer there," he said.
Before Mr Trump's withdrawal move, the TPP would have covered 40 per cent of the global economy. It went further than most existing free trade pacts, with labour laws, environmental protections and intellectual property rights touted by backers as a new gold standard for global trade.
The deal, which excluded China, was also seen as a way to counter Beijing's regional economic dominance.
The pact would group China with the 10 Asean members plus India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
Throughout the security forum of regional foreign ministers that ended yesterday, multiple countries voiced specific concerns about rising protectionism, including Japan, South Korea, China and the members of Asean.
Correction note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described the RCEP as a China-led deal. It is actually an Asean-led deal backed by China. We are sorry for the error.