Asean Trade Deal Emerging from the Shadows



Tom Mitchell | Financial Times

Good afternoon from Singapore where the dominant ride-hailing app is Grab and drivers normally respect the government’s advice not to talk on public or other forms of shared transport. But every once in a while you get a chatty one who just can’t help him or herself.

On one recent ride, a 50-something-year-old driver told me he was lucky to have done well enough on various entrepreneurial projects to be able to retire early, but found retirement boring so liked to pass the time occasionally ferrying strangers. Given that we were riding in a new and rather expensive SUV, I don’t think he was fibbing.

One of his more lucrative ventures involved providing provisioning and other services to US naval vessels that regularly visited the city-state. The US military has not traditionally been famous for pinching its pennies, so margins were fat. “It was my first pot of gold,” the driver said.

Shortly after that conversation, however, there was a useful reminder that for Singapore’s younger generation of entrepreneurs, the real opportunities will lie in intraregional rather than trans-Pacific trade. Last month 15 Asia-Pacific nations — from China, South Korea, and Japan in the north to Australia and New Zealand in the south — launched the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a trading bloc encompassing 30 percent of the world’s population and the main subject of today’s post.

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