YOKOHAMA, Japan — Protectionist rhetoric may be in vogue among some Western politicians, but many of the top economic leaders in Asia are saying they aren't worried. These officials suggest trade will become more open and free, and globalization is the solution to many of the world's problems.
From the pulpit at this week's Asian Development Bank meeting in Japan, central bankers and finance ministers from across the region fought back against the idea that international commerce should face more restrictions. Some even rejected the notion that such moves were feasible, despite the occasional setback like the U.S. pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — a trade deal that would have established rules and opened markets between 12 nations accounting for roughly 40 percent of global GDP.
"I believe that an individual trade pact may not succeed because one country has pulled out, as in the case of TPP," Arun Jaitley, India's minister of finance, defense and corporate affairs, said at a CNBC-hosted debate during the ADB meeting. "But trade is going to move forward."
"Trade is going to find ways and means — either by way of multilateral arrangements, plurilateral arrangements, or bilateral arrangements — of moving forward," he added. "I don't think there is any force in the world today that can prevent trade."
Jaitley's comments were echoed by others at the debate, including ADB President Takehiko Nakao, who said he did not believe recent protectionist remarks "by several policymakers in the world" would immediately impact Asia and its continued opening up.
"As long as we keep reform momentum, which we are doing, we should be okay," he said, reflecting on the likely demise of the TPP in the absence of U.S. membership.
For his part, Nakao took an unequivocal stance on trade. "We are very clear: Free trade is important and protectionist trade practices are not good, and we should make every effort to keep the trade and investment regime open," he said during the debate.
Even Japan and China — which have shared a rocky relationship — agreed to strengthen their financial engagement at a meeting between the countries' finance ministers on the sidelines of the ADB meeting. Earlier this week, finance officials from Japan, China and South Korea issued a statement rejecting protectionism.