Friday, August 31, 2007

Bush to Australia

Probably the most interesting thing about George Bush's trip to Australia next week for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting is that Laura Bush won't be going along because she has a pinched nerve. The next most interesting thing will be what "native costume" the assembled leaders wear, a tradition at APEC meetings that usually makes for a fairly silly photo. Otherwise the trip and the meeting are likely to be fairly inconsequential. Sure, the gathered leaders will talk about how they're committed to stopping global warming and reducing trade barriers, but APEC is in fact rather moribund as a policy driver. So it's not likely to say much about the recent international market meltdown or the Chinese exporting lead-painted toys or poisonous pet food. There will be complaints that Dubya is leaving early to attend 9/11 commemorations and get ready for Petraeus time

This is somewhat interesting, because in fact the Asia-Pacific region is one of the more economically dynamic regions in the world, but APEC as an organization has little or nothing to do with it. The Asians all learned something about sound policies after the late-1990s Asian economic meltdown and have generally been doing rather well.

There's a feeling/superstition that the only way to get countries to lower trade barriers and adopt sound fiscal and monetary policies is through an international organization whose implicit dynamic is "I'll stop screwing my consumers but only after you stop screwing yours." But the experience of (most of) the APEC countries suggests that adopting intelligent trade and economic policies can be done unilaterally, because they work for the country in question, not because it's been pressured into them.

One amusing side note: APEC is called a "cooperation" rather than an Organization or whatever, because both Taiwan and mainland China are in it, and the complex political dances between them mandate that they not both be members of a formal international "organization" or "alliance" or whatever.

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