Carrie Lam defends free trade amid rising protectionism

Carrie Lam defends free trade amid rising protectionism


Michael Lawrence, Chief Executive of Asia House, in Da Nang

Carrie Lam, Chief Executive of Hong Kong, has launched a strong defence of free trade, saying that the recent pushback against it masks wider social problems.

“Free trade has been made a scapegoat for some of the sorts of problems that economies are facing,” Mrs Lam said. “And Hong Kong is no exception.”

Speaking at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Da Nang on Thursday, Mrs Lam — who will deliver the keynote address at the Asia House conference in Hong Kong on 27 November — said free trade has been blamed for social problems, including the widening of the gap “between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’,” and that governments need to be more proactive in coming up with policies to combat these issues.

“My government has very clear social policies to support people who are less able to support themselves,” she said, citing education — “investing in people, investing in the future” — as an example.

“At the end of the day it is how we can ensure the population has a good standard of living. These will help address these grievances.”

Mrs Lam said that Hong Kong stands to benefit from the Belt and Road Initiative, describing it as a positive development for all countries involved. “It will be very conducive to providing a new impetus to free trade,” Mrs Lam said.

The increasing hostility towards free trade was also highlighted by President of Peru, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who warned of difficult times ahead as protectionism rises. The world is moving into a “dark corner,” he said.

“NAFTA, the wall, Brexit — that’s what I think is the dark corner.”

Future of TPP

There’s talk at APEC that the 11 remaining signatories of the Trans Pacific Partnership are working behind the scenes to reach a final agreement despite the withdrawal of the US from the pact and disagreements on a number of outstanding issues.

While President Kuczynski declined to comment specifically on the discussions, he said: “I think there will be some good announcements out of this meeting.”

APEC moves into top gear on Friday when US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are due to address the conference. This follows President Trump’s visit to Beijing.

Find out more about Asia House’s upcoming conference: Asia Trade in the New Global Order.