Tension filled the air as forty-three select postgraduate and university students from 11 reputable schools in Manila, Los Baños and Baguio (Philippines) representing six countries held their breath as representatives of the communique drafting committee sternly walked towards the plenary hall. Votes were now ready to be heard—votes that would determine whether a consensus from among all countries could be reached or not.

The chair reads all provisions contained in the final communique. Then voting began.

Yay!” said Australia.

Yay!” voted China.

Another “Yay!” was heard from Indonesia.

Japan also voted “Yay!”

Yay!” responded the Philippines.

And for a few seconds, everyone was in suspense. Until USA voted— “Yay!”

Sighs of relief and loud cheers filled the plenary hall as Stephen Olson gladly announced that the Asia Pacific Special Negotiation Forum (APSNF) has reached a consensus. Such was the excitement and thrill as the Hinrich Trade Negotiation Simulation (HTNS) concluded on Sunday, October 20 2019 held at the Ateneo de Manila University.

HTNS Manila 2019 concluded with a consensus on all issues 1

Members of Team Philippines pose after the successful HTNS Manila 2019.

For two days, the role of senior trade negotiators assumed by the 43 outstanding participants brought out powerful arguments to get the most benefits from all countries in the negotiation. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed—this was the overarching principle that masked aggressive positions. Towards the end of each day, everyone will have to bear in mind that trade is not about winning against others but winning with others in a mutually beneficial manner.

Excitement builds up on day 1

During the first day, Hinrich Foundation’s trade research fellow and HTNS facilitator Stephen Olson stirred the engagement of all participants by giving tips and teaching proper decorum during plenaries. Country teams were tasked to address fishing subsidies, sanitary requirements for food, data localization requirements and harmonized standards for nurses to work in the member-countries of the APSNF. While the scenarios were hypothetical, they all were based on real-world issues and of great importance to Filipinos and humanity.

At the ready, country delegations confidentially began strategizing positions and holding guards until the negotiation proper. Directions for each team was first-handedly guided by Stephen Olson and Hinrich Foundation Program Director, Alex Boome, who diligently followed through each team in narrowing down the nuances to arrive at a stronger stand on the issues.

Day 1 plenary came through with heated discussions. But it was only the start. Participants had to strengthen their strategy for the final negotiation session the following day.

HTNS Manila 2019 concluded with a consensus on all issues 2

Delegates are finalizing their final country positions on services and digital economy and fisheries and food.

Final plenary intensifies on day 2

A chunk of the session on the second day of the HTNS was devoted to concurrent separate discussions for trade in goods and services. Sectoral negotiations seemed to fare roughly but headed towards a consensus for majority of the provision. Until Stephen Olson called each country in a separate closed-door meeting to hand over a secret communique from the respective embassies that further disturbed the already tensioning waters of the negotiation.

Caucuses were quickly formed. Participants have never seen other teams regard time so preciously just to build new arguments given the last-minute developments from their governments. Breaks were turned into working breaks. Some even forgot they had to finish lunch before they were told sessions will resume in ten minutes. Such dedication was evident in all teams. The passion to learn, defend and improve one’s self in the discussion added to the overall pressure.

The final plenary started Sunday afternoon, and the pinnacle of negotiations became super intense with dissenting and agreeing positions. Then the concluding communique was drafted, voted upon, and the rest is history!

The next HTNS will be held in Hong Kong in February 2020.

About the author – Froland Tajale (Philippines, Grenoble-HKBU EGM ’20)

Froland Tajale

Froland Tajale is a scholar from the Philippines under the Hinrich Foundation Global Trade Leadership Development Program. He is currently pursuing his master’s degree in entrepreneurship and global marketing at Grenoble Ecole de Management and Hong Kong Baptist University. He is an advocate for open foreign policy and aspires to do intensive trade research and develop effective and efficient outward policies that will help unite economies.