Skip to Content

The High Cost of Spurning Asia

TPP protester holds up a sign during Froman trade hearing on Capitol Hill in WashingtonTPP protester holds up a sign during Froman trade hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington
A policewoman removes a man protesting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman (R) testifies before a Senate Finance Committee hearing in 2015.Photograph by Kevin Lamarque — Reuters

Good morning. My colleague Norman Pearlstine, vice chairman of Time Inc., attended this weekend’s annual “Singapore Summit,” where globalization is still in fashion, and filed the following report:


Despite the rising backlash among voters and, by extension, politicians in the U.S. and Europe, the globalization conference circuit continues to thrive, attracting big names from business, government and some of the world’s most prestigious think-tanks. The “Singapore Summit, Connecting Asia and the World,” that drew the likes of JP Morgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon, Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser, Hitachi Executive Chairman Hiroaki Nakanishi, private equity’s David Bonderman (TPG) and Leon Black (Apollo), and Michael Milken.

They and hundreds of other attendees from Europe, the U.S. and Asia were quick to recognize the severity and importance of populist attacks on globalization — be it from the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom or the anti-trade rhetoric coming from Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as they both try to curry favor with U.S. voters between now and November’s election. A panel of political analysts including Democrat Jim Messina, Republican Matt Rhodes, and the U.K.’s Lord Peter Mandelson all stressed the need for global elites to listen to angry, nationalist voters and to be sensitive to their concerns.

Speakers and attendees acknowledged that blue-collar jobs in the U.S. and Europe had been lost to low-cost Asian producers. But they insisted — and a great deal of data supports their view — that, on balance, the world has benefited from huge increases in international trade over the past few decades. There was also general agreement that automation and other technological advances were much more responsible for job losses than were bad trade deals.

Economists and representatives from emerging Asian markets also warned that the U.S. may be the big loser should it fail to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. They note that over the next few years, many Asian economies are likely to grow at twice growth rates for the rest of the world. As these economies grow, they are shifting rapidly from an emphasis on low-cost exports to increased domestic consumer spending, creating big opportunities for U.S. manufacturers and service providers. A Boston Consulting Group study distributed at the Summit says, “Asia has more than 100 million upper- middle class households, contributing to consumption of more than $3 trillion” a year. “Their tastes are global,” and they are willing to pay for premium quality goods, according to the report.

Some smart U.S. marketers and manufacturers are increasing their focus on these growth opportunities. To cite one example, Procter & Gamble, long an important player on the global scene, recently moved its President for Global Skin & Personal Care, R. Alexandra Keith, from its Cincinnati headquarters to Singapore, joining Magesvaran Suranan, P&G’s President for Asia Pacific Selling & Market Operations, and putting her closer to Asia’s emerging markets.