Apec leaders agree on need for free, fair environment for trade and investment to drive economic recovery

SINGAPORE – Leaders from 21 Asia-Pacific economies on Friday (Nov 20) vowed to redouble efforts to free up trade across the Pacific Ocean.

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) leaders said more had to be done to foster an enabling environment for trade and investment in the region.

“We recognise the importance of a free, open, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent and predictable trade and investment environment to drive economic recovery at such a challenging time,” they said in their declaration following their annual year-end summit.

“In this regard, we reaffirm our support for agreed-upon rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in promoting the stability and predictability of international trade flows,” they added.

The virtual meeting chaired by Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin saw discussions focused on combating the pandemic, which has eclipsed trade tensions.

Stressing the importance of a multilateral trading system with the WTO at its core, Chinese President Xi Jinping said: “Our economic cooperation has never been a zero-sum political game in which one gains at the expense of the other. Rather, our cooperation has provided us with a development platform to ensure what we each do can be mutually reinforcing and beneficial to all.”

He added that China will favourably consider joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – days after Beijing joined all 10 Asean members, Australia, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand in inking the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) mega trade pact.

Both the CPTPP and RCEP are seen as building blocks of a larger Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific that Apec has set as a goal.

Outgoing US President Donald Trump’s remarks at the closed-door meeting were not released by press time. He was the only leader who did not use the virtual background provided by host Malaysia during the online meeting.

It was the second time that Trump, who is contesting his election loss to Democrat Joe Biden, attended an Apec meet. He was at its 2017 summit in Danang, Vietnam.

Apec gatherings have in recent years been overshadowed by US-China trade tensions, with leaders unable to agree on a joint declaration at their 2018 summit in Papua New Guinea. Last year’s meeting in Chile was cancelled following massive street protests.

This year, however, produced both a leaders’ declaration and post-2020 vision, to replace the Bogor Goals which will reach maturity this year. The goals, adopted at Apec’s 1994 meeting in Bogor, Indonesia called for its economies to achieve a free and open trade and investment environment by 2020.


Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha (left) attends the online Apec leaders’ summit in Bangkok. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

On Friday, the leaders also outlined a vision for the next 20 years of an open, dynamic, resilient and peaceful region anchored on three economic drivers: trade and investment; innovation and digitalisation; and strong, balanced, secure, sustainable and inclusive growth.

In his speech to fellow leaders, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged Apec economies to deepen cooperation on vaccine development and deployment, resume the movement of goods and people, and back inclusive development.

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“Apec members should work together to develop and promote access to diagnostic tests, treatments and vaccines,” he said. Singapore co-chairs the Friends of the Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility (Covax) grouping that aims to support vaccine multilateralism and accelerate vaccine development, and Mr Lee called on Apec economies to join in the effort.

Members can also update digital trade rules to ease cross-border freight and work together to safely re-open borders for travel, he said.

Inclusive development is also crucial, he said, noting Apec members are cooperating on human resource development to equip their people for the future economy.

Expressing support for a refreshed vision for Apec, Mr Lee said: “A shared interest in one another’s prosperity and success will bring about a more integrated, interdependent, prosperous, and ultimately safer world.”

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