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International trade and economic reform is driving rapid growth and poverty reduction, in absolute terms, across the Asia-Pacific region. Unfortunately, much of this growth has by-passed the small and vulnerable economies (SVEs) of the region, for a range of practical reasons such as their small economic size and geographical isolation. However, these small economies may now have a unique opportunity to harness the benefits of massive regional growth by undertaking reforms that will result in closer economic integration with the markets of Asia and Oceania. Rapid growth in the region, even in the face of global recessionary trends, creates opportunities for small and fragile states to achieve increased levels of trade and sustainable development opportunities that constitute the most viable path to economic and political self-reliance. However, navigating this path is challenging for all economies, let alone SVEs.
Developed nations, in particular those in the region, have a direct interest in providing technology and support to assist SVEs through this journey. The cost of failed states and political instability is significant in terms of economic welfare and strategic security issues. A robust and more prosperous region is not only good for developing nations in the region, but it's also good for developed ones as well. An overriding imperative, therefore, must be to ensure that no one in the region suffers unnecessarily from preventable poverty, for humanitarian reasons, but also as a means of reducing poverty-related instability and insecurity.
International trade is one of the greatest sources of modern wealth. However, it can be challenging and disruptive, especially to poor people who usually have very few resources and little capacity to cope with changes in the price of what they produce and consume. To share in higher global living standards, the poor must gain access to the benefits that international trade has to offer. But how?
There is a rich vein of academic analysis that deals with this question, much of it from a theoretical perspective. We wanted to contribute to an understanding of the ways in which governments and communities have dealt with trade as a practical challenge, especially in the Asia-Pacific region where approximately two thirds of the world's poor live.
Two years ago, we launched a project that has been jointly supported by the Australian Government’s official aid agency, AusAID, and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to investigate this complex trade-poverty relationship through a series of research papers and case studies. We decided to look beyond ideological debates about free or fair trade, to see what is happening on the ground in low-income communities across a range of Asia-Pacific countries. The accounts collected in this book provide the reader with a rich experience of the successes, the failures and the challenges of trade policy and its ability to contribute to sustainable development.
This book explores the complex relationship between international trade and poverty reduction through a combination of research papers and contemporary case studies. Written mainly by developing-country authors in consultation with local businesses and communities, the case studies contribute to our understanding of the ways in which low-income communities are dealing with trade as a practical challenge, especially in the Asia-Pacific region where approximately two-thirds of the world's poor live. While making it clear that there is no 'one size fits all' formula, the research and stories highlight a number of necessary preconditions, such as political commitment and cooperation at all levels, if trade is to successfully reduce poverty. Openness to trade, serious commitment to domestic reform, trade-related capacity building, a robust and responsible private sector and access to the markets of developed countries are all identified as powerful tools for building trade-related sustainable development.
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